Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: The Avengers

The Avengers
Dir. Joss Whedon
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 142mins

Few films will come as anticipated as The Avengers, the accumulation of years of superhero movies that finally sees the likes of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) joining forces to battle evil and save the planet (but mostly just America). It’s hard to ignore the hype that has surrounded this Marvel comic adaptation and as it explodes upon the multiplexes across the globe I was left with a distinct sense of relief. To be perfectly honest with you, I didn’t want to be one of those people that anonymous online commentators fire vitriol at simply because I didn’t understand the intricacies of why Iron Man acts the way he does or understand the hows and whys behind The Hulk’s green-hued muscular transformation. Quite frankly, I was just glad I had a good time and don’t have to be “that guy” with a target on his back.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

I think my favourite bit - apart from the ace fight sequence between Thor and Iron Man - was when the Hulk goes to pick up Thor's hammer. Teehee.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Killing Horror One Film at a Time

Horror as a viable genre at the Australian box office, it would appear, is dead. Oh sure, Paranormal Activity 4 will make some great cash and any high profile franchise release will see at least some coin in the coffers based on brand name alone, but original titles appear to dropping left, right and centre down this end of the globe and it has officially reached its nadir with the news that Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods will be bypassing cinemas and head direct-to-DVD (I think first officially noted by @popcornjunkies on Twitter and confirmed on the Roadshow Tumblr). There has always been far more horror titles premiering on home entertainment than in cinemas anyway, the same could be said for film in general, but 2012 appears to have met a curious resistance to the genre that just highlights this country's rather ho-hum relationship with horror fare.

This year has been very quiet for scary pictures, especially since the dryer months at the start of the year are a perfect playground for these films to appear as if out of nowhere and scare up a few million at the box office thanks to patrons eager for a fright. Earlier this year though not even an American opening weekend haul of over $30mil could get the ball rolling for that film's local release. I saw that rather turgid religious horror flick essentially all by myself and the film opened to little more than $700,000 (which would equate to a $7m opening in the USA). Ti West's The Innkeepers will find itself on one screen across the entire country when it's released exclusively the Cinema Nova in Melbourne on 31 May, Ben Wheatley's Kill List went direct-to-DVD earlier this year, and now Cabin in the Woods is going that way too. A specific release date hasn't been announced, but it certainly won't be until after the film's US DVD release. Not that that will help any since people are going to illegally download it anyway. The distributor, Roadshow, did the same thing with GrindHouse several years ago and that resulted in Death Proof disappointing at the box office and Planet Terror never seeing the light of a movie cinema apart from the one local movie house (oh hai The Astor Theatre in St Kilda) that screens the original unedited edition. Last year the vampire flick Stake Land and Spanish home invasion thriller Kidnapped also received one-screen released despite potential for wider appeal. Meanwhile, I think it's already been confirmed that Piranha 3DD will be going Direct-to-DVD after disappointing receipts from the original. I can only hope there's a 3D Blu-ray released.

What does it all mean? Well, horror has never been a particularly bountiful genre at the box office. Despite what all the Aussie film industry nodding heads would have us believe, horror is not the saviour people think it is. As I said before, name recognition will get you so far, but success in America for a scary genre title does not always correlate to success in Australia. Still, with Joss Whedon's name tacked onto all the marketing (he is the screenwriter after all) and a cast that includes Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth (or should that be "Our Chris Hemsworth" since he's an Aussie to boot), one would think they could release it theatrically in some capacity. Does their name not mean any value or marketing muscle whatsoever? Even an ultra quiet release like the one bequeathed to Haywire from the same distributor, that saw that Steven Soderbergh film screening at early mornings in mostly non-metro cinemas. Anything, really, to be able to see the film the way it should be. At this stage it appears only those attending the Gold Coast Film Festival screenings of Cabin will get to see it in a cinema, which is a damned shame. When fundie lobbyists with "wholesome" "family friendly" agendas aren't trying to get horror films banned we have distributors apparently doing their best to sabotage them. What fun it is.

Maybe Roadshow will hold off on the DVD release until it's been able to screen at Sydney and Melbourne film festivals later in the year? It's certainly a possibility worth considering. Maybe the distributor just has too much on their plate to juggle the release of a film that most people acknowledge won't have terrible wide mass appeal. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I'm sure the US blu-ray (and, hey, even the novelisation!) will have to suffice for any desperate potential paying customers.

Ball Skills

I find it slightly disappointing that neither of the films Ryan Kwanten has returned to Australia to film in between seasons of HBO's True Blood have made a dent in the box office or public consciousness. Red Hill was an ace, tightly constructed blend of western and action thriller that nobody took much notice of at the tail-end of 2010. And then last year there was also Griff the Invisible, my favourite Aussie film of 2011 and a beautifully bittersweet take on the superhero genre that is still all the rage thanks to The Avengers (out now in Australia by the way). Neither deserved to die on the vine like they did, although Griff the Invisible did surprisingly take out the AACTA Award for Best Original Screenplay so writer/director Leon Ford found some late-breaking respect from within the industry at least.

Ryan Kwanten now has his third Australian film in as many years and it's time to cue jokes about balls. Not Suitable for Children sees Kwanten's bachelor ways rocked by cancer and the prospect of infertility. I'm not entirely sold on the film based on the trailer which weaves from awkard "this is what hip, young people do!" passages to trite displays of rom-com feelgoodiness - let's not even get started on the fidgety, cutesy title cards, okay? - but Kwanten has proven to be a reliable presence on screen who's capable of drawing sweetness out of his characters, plus I suspect there may be more to the film than the trailer is alluding to. With a title like Not Suitable for Children, they surely can't simply be referring to one character's dislike of children.

As for the poster up there? Yeah, well, it looks perfectly fine (oh hai tight-fitting tee) until they went and added the ejaculatory sperm donor cup. It didn't exactly work for Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Lopez to put semen so front and centre of their romcom marketing (The Switch and The Back-Up Plan respectively) because, I suspect, people don't really want to think about that outside of their own home. "Coming Sooner Than You Think" is about right, as No Suitable For Children will be released on 5 July.

Via AtTheCinema

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The 1994 Project: Blink

1994 turns 18 this year and we're celebrating! I’ve routinely cited this as my favourite year of film – it’s my 1999 if you’re a fan of that other particularly vintage year of the 1990s – and, just to stretch the birthday analogy as far as it can possibly go, I thought I’d investigate the year even further. Invite back old favourites as well as hopefully discover a lot of new ones. Being comprehensive is sexy, isn't it?

I'm not gonna lie - I only watched Michael Apted's Blink because I'm currently loving Madeleine Stowe on Revenge and I haven't seen enough of the work she did in her heyday. I have always liked her - her work in The Last of Mohicans trumps that of Daniel Day-Lewis if I remember correctly - and I look forward to watching another 1994 offering of hers, the much more notorious Bad Girls. In retrospect, the name Michael Apted is certainly enough to pique my interesting somewhat, and I always enjoy watching Laurie Metcalfe in anything she does (hi Debbie Salt!) The film's unspectacular box office but modest critical reception played far less into my reasoning than remembering being hypnotised by the cover on the shelf at the local video store, as Stowe's blank expression is bathed in red.

The film is little more than a typical 1990s thriller with a female heroine who becomes directly involved in the case of a serial killer after hearing her upstairs neighbour get murdered. One can easily see Ashley Judd starring in this several years later, although I can't quite imagine the original intended star, Julia Roberts, being anything other than horribly miscast. Roberts may have stumbled across some nicely done thrillers in her early career, most notably The Pelican Brief and Sleeping with the Enemy (although the latter title is apparently much worse than I remember so perhaps I'm off base), but Blink would have to be completely different to accommodate Roberts' star persona. Blink is too boutique to justify Roberts' presence so I'm glad she passed on the role. Stowe, as it happens, is actually rather excellent in the role as a blind woman who receives cornea (or maybe retina?) transplants, but whose perception of image and reality begin to falter once she becomes entangled with a local detective and the crime he's investigating. Her wild locks frame her spectacular face so vividly, and when Stowe smiles it is as if her lips disappear behind her enviable cheekbones. With her deep, throaty voice, honking laugh and striking face, Stowe is an impressive presence on screen. It's a shame she more or less retired from larger productions to be with her family before finally returning with the prime time soap that garnered her a Golden Globe nominations earlier this year. She reminds me a lot of European actresses likes Isabelle Adjani and Monica Bellucci. Is that odd?

Where the film succeeds - it's certainly not in the damp romantic subplot involving Aiden Quinn, that's for sure - is in the representation of Stowe's Emma Brody and the way her vision is integrated into the story. Her blindness, and recovery from it, aren't just character traits to elicit compassion from the audience, nor is it simply used as a cheap, shorthand way of getting a reaction from views (like, say, a child or an animal in a threatening situation), but it actually comes across as a deeply engrained part of this woman's being and the story that's playing out. Apted has visually representation Emma's POV impressively as a mix of magic mirror bodily distortions and fragmented kaleidoscope swirls. She sits more or less in the dark because artificial light hurts her eyes and she keeps her seeing eye dog; it's as if she's trying to remain blind so as to not see what it happening around her. The detailing of delayed sight is sadly not used far enough as I found it very effective and gave several nice jumps. The idea that the audience can't trust what they're seeing just as much as Emma is a rewarding device, but one that isn't given its due by film's end.

A lovely sax and synth filled score by Brad Fiedel and chilly cinematography by Dante Spinotti give Blink a polished surface, but Apted and screenwriter Dana Stevens don't push the central idea hard enough. The final act more or less becomes a standard thriller with our heroine being fooled into visiting an abandoned house where she must confront the villain. With a nod or two to the final hunting sequence of The Silence of the Lambs, Blink doesn't utilise it's lead character's striking disability to full effect. What starts out as a surprisingly intense and imaginative thriller unfortunately peters out, but not before doing enough to leave a solid impression. B-

Previously on The 1994 Project
Reality Bites (B)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The 1994 Project: Reality Bites

1994 turns 18 this year and we're celebrating! I’ve routinely cited this as my favourite year of film – it’s my 1999 if you’re a fan of that other particularly vintage year of the 1990s – and, just to stretch the birthday analogy as far as it can possibly go, I thought I’d investigate the year even further. Invite back old favourites as well as hopefully discover a lot of new ones. Being comprehensive is sexy, isn't it?

What better way to begin a look back at the year 1994 than by looking at the film that not only exemplifies the year, but probably even the decade. Whenever people think of the 1990s in terms of music, fashion, celebrity, attitude, how can anybody go pass Ben Stiller's Reality Bites (with a detour through Empire Records, naturally)? For a decade that by 1999 seemed to have lost all form of personality, it sure did have a new style all of its own for a while. Aided by a hit album of era-defining modern alternative rock and classic hits that seemingly soundtracked an entire generation of collegegoers, costume design that made a beautiful twin to the soundtrack as one character's beer-stained button-up mixed with another character's polka dot vintage, and a cast that would come to represent some of the finest actors of their generation, Reality Bites is probably the most 1990s movie one could think of.

Released just two months before the death of Generation X hero and Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain in February of 1994, Reality Bites came to be unleashed on audiences at the tail-end of the immensely popular grunge movement at a time when youth were (I presume) desperately trying to carve a new identity. The issues that Stiller's film talks about are hardly defined to people in their early 20s of 1994, but it was surely the earliest noteworthy example of it being done within that very world. Alongside the aforementioned Empire Records and the much less discussed Threesome, Reality Bites' aura of post-college blues clad in plaid and embroidered vests represented a less judgemental, but no less thought-provoking, view of these people who are so frequently (before and since) misrepresented on screen. Like the films of John Hughes and the "Brat Pack" of the 1980s, Reality Bites was speaking to a new generation and doing it with their own language. Even if you didn't identify with any of the five leads, there was still something quite endearing about them that makes the idea of living their lives seem exciting. Even working at The Gap or being unemployed and making meagre scraps playing in a band at a dive bar appears intoxicating.

That the film succeeds in spite of several big flaws is probably a credit to Stiller's knack for casting and music. Ethan Hawke's "Troy" is, essentially, a bit of a dick (plus his singing face looks a bit like a donkey having an orgasm to the tune of Collective Soul) and the ending completely sells out Winona Ryder's "Lelaina" in a way that betrays the entire film in a way, but the actors do fine jobs nevertheless. Ryder is especially excellent, free of the period restrictions held on her by her most acclaimed work in The Age of Innocence, Little Women and Dracula or the artificial worlds of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, she proves to be a sunny, beautiful presence. I can't imagine she's ever looked prettier than she does in her red sleeveless top, tight jeans, sunglasses and her hair cutely cropped above her shoulder. It's my favourite performance of Ryder's and her easiest to love since Heathers. Janeane Garofalo in her assortment of fabulously personal costume changes is a wonder as "Vickie", although the screenplay by Helen Childress all but ignores her in favour of the more generic romance subplot between Troy and Lelaina in the second half, and makes for a wicked double with her performance in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. Stiller is also quite fun and even charming despite swimming in his suits and douchey credentials.

The 1990s, like the 1980s before it, were a significant time in the history of movie soundtracks and Reality Bites is an important milestone in the history of this less acknowledged artform. Quentin Tarantino would get the continual plaudits (and in 1994 he had Pulp Fiction, which got the less modern-leaning music types excited), but Reality Bites was so deliciously of its time that it's hard to ignore it as one of the finest soundtracks of the decade. While not quite wall-to-wall Rage staples like Empire Records, it is chock full of great tunes that epitomise the sound of the '90s. Entertainment Weekly curiously snubbed it from their list of best 1990s soundtracks, but I don't know anybody who could disagree it's incredible. Badass rock outfits fronted by women like the Juliana Hatfield Three and The Indians mix with the rising presence of independent music (Lisa Loeb's "Stay (I Missed You)" was the first song to ever top the Billboard 100 without being signed to a record label) and the oozing cool of Lenny Kravitz, The Posies and Crowded House. Even the somewhat left-of-centre tracks by World Party and Squeeze sit perfectly alongside The Knack's "My Sharona" and Big Mountain's "Baby I Love Your Way". It would probably be classified as too pop these days, but when the charts were being ruled by eurotrance and hip-hop (two genres that had their bona fide hey day at the same moment), it was a blistering alternative that was exciting, easy, and altogether amazing.

"Evian is naive spelt backwards!" says Vickie during the film's famous "My Sharona" dance sequence, but despite the film being about characters who wish to rebuke the commercialism of their parents, Reality Bites sure is all about what's then and now. Not that there's anything wrong with that since what was "then and now" in 1994 was basically really great and I kinda wish I'd been old enough to live through it. With the era defining allure of a Jack Daniels commercial (am I the only one who remembers those?), Reality Bites is a special little film and one that looks like it should have aged horribly, but hasn't. It's style is so strong that its place as a pop culture time capsule is assured, but it never comes off as capitalising on a rising trend. "You say I talk so all the time... so?" asks Lisa Loeb in the chart-topping hit that still has the power to affect, and isn't that the way? Reality Bites may just be about itself and dawdle about as if caring for little else, but there's nothing wrong with that if you're so taken by it. Even 18 years later the world of Reality Bites is addictive. B


The first thing I thought of when I saw this poster for Area 470 was...


The first thing I thought of when I saw this poster for The House at the End of the Street was...

Case 39.

The first things I thought of when I saw this poster for The Pact were...

Needful Things and The Frighteners.

Do better!

Monday, April 23, 2012

GI Joe: Judgement Day

Do you think whoever styled former Friday Night Lights star (TYRA COLLETTE!!) and failed Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki in GI Joe: Retaliation deliberately used Linda Hamilton from Terminator 2: Judgement Day as their muse? The first thing I thought of when looking at the latest poster for this film was that rather striking iconic moment of female ass-kicking action movie awesomeness from 1991. What about you?

Coach Taylor would be impressed, but you just know Linda Hamilton's all "Bitch please, I'm Sarah fuckin' Connor!"

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Review: Make-Out with Violence

Make-Out with Violence
Dir. The Deagol Bros
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 105mins

Zombies have been inserted into all sorts of unexpected texts in the last decade. We’ve read Jane Austen go all Resident Evil on them in Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, they put the “zom” in the “rom-zom-com” of Shaun of the Dead, and infamous Canadian provocateur Bruce LaBruce even made a couple of gay romance/porn movies most notably Otto or, Up With Dead People. Meanwhile, the television adaptation of the popular The Walking Dead comic series has put the flesh eaters in Prime Time. Now comes Make-Out with Violence, which takes the bittersweet American indie coming-of-age drama and gives it a zombie twist. Naturally.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

I really hope the dodgy local cover art of this film - finally being released here for the first of any kind - doesn't deter people from watching it. It's really quite special.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Meet the Cannes Class of 2012

The Cannes Film Festival, where Hollywood's obsession with sexy, but vacant and talentless, stars takes a backseat and we can honour true, honest, hard-working THESPIANS. Actors actors who can truly navigate to the depths of the human soul.

Kristen Stewart (On the Road) and Robert Pattinson (Cosmopolis)

Kylie Minogue (Holy Motors)

Zac Efron (The Paperboy)

Shia LaBeouf (Lawless)

Eva Mendes (Holy Motors)

Matthew McConaughey (Mud)

Matthew McConaughey (The Paperboy)

Yes, Matthew McConaughey has two films in competition at Cannes. Once you include the likes of Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly), Nicole Kidman (The Paperboy, Marion Cotillard (Rust & Bone), Kirsten Dunst, Viggo Mortensen and Amy Adams (On the Road), Reese Witherspoon (Mud), and Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain (Lawless), it's as if Thierry Fremaux got particularly horny this year and said "Dear paparazzi, you're welcome."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gigolo Joe Would Be Impressed

I'd rather one of these robots walking around my home than those transparent ones from I, Robot or those creepy ones that look like Robin Williams from Bicentennial Man. Even if Michael Fassbender's "David" is also a little bit creepy - how about that moment when he sniffs the flowers? jeepers! - he's obviously the sexiest robot since Jude Law's "Gigolo Joe" from AI: Artificial Intelligence, amiright? Unless I'm forgetting one. Tell me, have I forgotten a sexy robot from the the last ten years?

Yes, it's weird to type "have I forgotten a sexy robot from the last ten years", but I'd appreciate it if you just ignored the ridiculousness of such a statement and move right along.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Footnote

Dir. Joseph Cedar
Country: Israel
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 101mins

Who knew scholarly politics would be so boring? Actually, the idea of a film about bickering academics was surely never going to be anybody’s idea of a rollicking good time, but even the meekest of forms can be stuffed full of steroids to give the illusion of zip and vigour. Instead, writer/director Joseph Cedar (Beaufort) has directed his film with all the dynamism of comatose man, preferring flat visuals to correspond with the lifeless tale of father-son rivalry.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Monday, April 16, 2012

100 Films, but Only One Black Robe

You may remember two weeks back when I informed you about this project that is counting down the best 100 Canadian films of the last 30 years in honour of the upcoming Possible Worlds festival that screens Canadian cinema in Sydney. Well, something I have written is currently hanging around at the top of their blog so you should head on over and take a read. I look at Bruce Beresford's Black Robe, which was released in Canada in 1991 and Australia in 1992. The film, a co-production between the two nations, is really a rather good one if very subdued. If this were Hollywood then it would obviously be far more bombastic, but as it is it's quite divine. I just found out that it will be getting a DVD/Blu-ray release here in Australia at the end of the month through Umbrella Entertainment. It has been out of print for so long that it will be nice to see people reacquaint themselves with it again.

Not Quite Scream On the Big Screen

It may seem strange, but I've never actually seen Scream in a cinema, on the big screen. It may very well be the film that (quite literally) shaped a large portion of my movie-watching teenage years and changed my life from a somewhat movie-enjoying kid to a full on addict, but when Wes Craven's revolutionary horror film arrived in Australian cinemas in February of 1997 I was but a 12-year-old who didn't really follow the cinema new releases with such a fervent obsession like I would now. My brother went to see it and was appropriately in love (he would purchase the soundtrack that I would eventually steal from him) so I was certainly aware of its existence, but being rated MA15+ and being hopelessly embarrassed to ask a parent to take me I went without until a day off sick from school resulted in watching it on video. [insert sentence about "remember those? lol!" and "remember when video stores had actual videos? lol!" etc!] Things changed rather quickly, obviously.

In the 16 years that have passed I've never had the chance to see Scream on the big screen. A friend involved in film distribution informs me that the studio most likely destroyed - dumped or incinerated - any remaining film prints long ago, and nobody has ever initiated any action to form a high quality digital version. So, essentially, Scream is off limits for any repertory viewing and isn't that a shame? Hopefully one of these days the people in the know will see there's money to made in creating a digital copy of the film that cinemas, like the grand Astor Theatre here in Melbourne, can show. However, last Friday I thought I may have struck gold at one of my local Village multiplexes. I had a couple of spare hours before work and had decided to catch a screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Aardman Remix and as I was lining I noticed the cinema had organised a Friday the 13th horror double, airing late in the evening. Much to my delight they were screening the two defining horror movies of the 1990s - The Blair Witch Project and Scream. Quite frankly, I didn't care if they were just playing a DVD, the chance to see not just one but both of those titles in a cinema was too hard to pass up. I even had to desert party plans at my own house in order to do so. Alas, it was not to be... I could have cried, really.

The Blair Witch Project went off without a hitch, unless you count the truly dumbfounding comments my guest and I overheard once it was over. I am not kidding when I tell you that one girl actually said "The second one is so much better. It's like a proper movie." Head, meet desk repeatedly. That girl did not deserve to watch Scream after that and I blame her for the technical issues that eventually brought the double feature to a 1am halt. Scream began, but we quickly realised things were not as they should be as we sat there chowing down on popcorn watching Drew Barrymore interact on the telephone sans dialogue. Uh-oh! Oh sure, it was fun at first to start reciting the dialogue we knew by heart, like we were at Scream 4's "stab-a-thon", but after several more aborted attempts at getting the film going we were officially told that they couldn't continue and that we were to leave with movie tickets/refunds in hand. Such a disappointing end to an evening that had promised such fun.

It was a curious event from the get go, really. I wasn't even aware of it until I had gone to the cinema (completely by chance) earlier that day. I can't imagine many others knew about it either since the turnout was quite low. More people actually showed up for the Scream half at 1am, and I don't think its far from the truth to say that most people who were there from the start were there for the second film most of all. At least I got to see the still exceptionally effective Blair Witch before our early exit. It was a bit sad to see the staff who had given themselves bloodied, ghoulish makeovers and dressed up for not much, but what can you do? I would recommend that if the Jam Factory in South Yarra wishes to do these sort of events again then they should actually advertise them and then actually make sure their technology is actually working before they make people trek out at 11pm.

So, with that out of the way I sadly have to still say I've never had the chance to see Scream on a big scream. Casey's inside on the outside writ large will just have to wait for another time, but until then I hope to finally get my Scream to Scream, Scene by Scene project up and running again after a hefty break. I know many of you have been waiting for it and you may finally be getting your wish.

Review: Perfect Sense

Perfect Sense
Dir. David Mackenzie
Year: 2012
Country: UK/Ireland
Running Time: 88mins

Pandemics: who knew they were so popular? After Children of Men, Blindness and Contagion in recent years, now comes Perfect Sense. Whereas Steven Soderbergh’s bird flu thriller from last year took a much more clinical, scientific approach to its material, Perfect Sense instead frames a love story around the tale of a society that has suddenly lost its ability to smell. This film from David Mackenzie is such a curiously inert experience that never satisfies as a romance, a sci-fi drama or as a social parable. To use its own ideology, Perfect Sense doesn’t have its own unique sense to be truly involving, instead giving off the aroma of a rather stale, beige affair.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Summertime, and the Living isn't Quite Easy

Many of my longtime readers - long longtime readers - may remember that I used to be one of those awful things known as a "music critic". I wasn't very good, I suppose, but I had my niche and that worked well for me. Of course, I eventually grew to have such almighty disdain for the whole thing and found myself loathing most of the music I had to review. Much like with cinema, however, I routinely found myself in my own little corner defending specific albums that the rest of the "community" had either blindly ignored or were outwardly hostile towards. One such album was Scarlett Johansson's Anywhere I Lay My Head. Released in 2008, it was a peculiar collection of Tom Waits covers that saw Johansson collaborate with TV On the Radio's Dave Sitek. I thought it was beautifully atmospheric, romantically lush, but with sinister undertones and I still listen to it on a regular basis to this very day. Seemingly everybody else hated it, but I always suspected they'd have fallen head over heels with it if it wasn't released by someone as noteworthy as Johansson. But, then again, I suspect that with a lot of stuff. Notoriety brings out pitchforks, doncha know.

Critics were kinder to her Pete Yorn duet album, Break Up, but the lack of any real excitement garnered made the soon-to-be Avenger distance herself from the music side of her career. Why "Relator" wasn't a huge smash hit I honestly have no idea. The music industry is so fickle with stuff like that just used to make me so dispirited. At least with movies you can more or less figure out why one movie is a success or not. "Relator" specifically should have had the folky types with their Deschanel spirit die of giddiness. Alas...

I bring all of this up because Johansson's musical nature is back in a rather unexpected way. The cover of Gershwin's "Summertime" that she recorded back in 2006 for the compilation album Unexpected Dreams: Songs from the Stars has been given the remix treatment by Tim Goldsworthy and Massive Attack's 3D for an upcoming Spanish movie soundtrack. Titled Days of Grace, the soundtrack will also feature music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Atticus Ross and Shigeru Umebayashi. Hitfix has the entire tracklisting and it's very long (39 tracks in all), but little word about the actual film it's from.

Personally, I love it. Scarlett's vocals so suit this style of deeply atmospheric smoky jazz bar sound and the production here is super top notch. The song is stripped of all its sunniness which has been replaced by a brooding bass line that recalls Human League's "Being Boiled" (aka one of the greatest songs ever recorded, yes) and distorted guitars that echo shoegaze and grunge. It's basically incredible, but what do you think?

Review: The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea
Dir. Terrence Davies
Country: UK
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 98mins

The first non-documentary feature from esteemed British director Terrence Davies (The House of Mirth) in some 11 years is a rather curious creature. Davies has crafted–oh my, has he crafted–a rather drowsy and leisurely paced film that is bathed in rich, deep yellows, crimsons and blues and filmed through a haze of post-war cigarette smoke. Despite seemingly being confined to all but a few sets, Davies has punctuated his minimalistic romance with beautiful refined costumes, ornate set decoration of sublime precision and sumptuous cinematography that nonetheless appears to be slowly strangling its protagonists from behind. An omnipresent autumnal chill permeates the film and The Deep Blue Sea never transcends its stage bound origins, but the finely modulated performance of Rachel Weisz is a thing of such beauty that one can forgive its simpler trappings.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Smash of Ages: The Musicals of 2012

I've used a few days of sickness to curl up in bed and watch DVDs and TV. One particular program that I have plowed on through is Smash, NBC's drama series about the creation of an original Broadway musical based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. It's a fascinating show in many regards, if not a perfect one by any means. Much like, say, Glee, it has moments of wonderfully done television followed by moments of dunderheaded madness, but unlike Glee it hasn't completely died on the vine and doesn't suffer from multiple cases of jumping the shark per episode. But, hey, it's early days yet! While I question Smash's Glee-inspired musical moments of vaguely connected pop jukebox moments, where it truly shines is when it sticks to its initial premise of showing a Broadway show being formed from the ground up. Realistic it surely is not, but watching creative people create is such a great joy to watch that I'm able to forgive the questionable follies of its creators (we'll just pretend episode eight, "The Coup", never happened, what with its ridiculous Fame-esque bowling alley sequence and Ryan Tedder "moment").

When Smash is good it's incredible. I've watched episode five's "Let's Be Bad" number so many times now that it is bordering on obscene. "Let Me Be Your Star" from episode one is a more dramatically big moment, but the "Bad" sequence was so fantastically staged in full costume and make-up (even if the art direction was a tad too Rob Marshall's Chicago) that it surely ranks as the show's finest moment so far. That I can easily see the production working on stage and on film proves as much, and if Megan Hilty doesn't submit that episode as her award season For Your Consideration choice (at least of the episodes that we've seen) then maybe she's as deranged as the Smash writers who think we still want to see Ellis faux-prancing about as some villainous sideshow. Elsewhere it has been so great to see Debra Messing dig into her role, even if the material given to her isn't always up to scratch. Who knew she could burrow in so deep with a character that could have been so easily to play as simply as Grace 2.0? She and Anjelica Huston, whose delicate and finely-tuned tightrope walk between brittle and brawn is a delight to see in such frequent doses, wage a weekly battle for Best In Show honours. Loved seeing Messing kick up her heels during the "I Never Met A Wolf Who Didn't Love to Howl" number of the sublime episode four, "The Cost of Art", and then be able to show such fleeting, sexy vulnerability in episode six. Similarly, one of the series' biggest surprise writing wins has been Huston's new love for $7 martini's at a dive bar. It's askew character developments like that that make a show like Smash worth investing in. And, of course, moments like this.

In fact, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are surely the greatest assets for Smash ("Gershwin is the cat's pajamas", hello!) since all of the original numbers so far have been home runs - that pun will only work for people who have been watching Smash; those who haven't can replace one pun with another. How about "all of the original numbers so far have been smash hits"? - which is why I keep wanting more of those and less of the jukebox musical stuff that just gets in the way (I'm looking at you Katharine McPhee singing "It's a Man's World"). I mean, if these were actual songs from a real Broadway show then I probably wouldn't be leaving the theatre disappointed, but then again my knowledge of stage scores is still sadly limited so maybe they're not actually that good?

Bring on the vices!
Don't care what the price is!
I'll add the right spices,
When the stand-up bass slaps you in the face,
Well, it ain't my husband I'll embrace.

I can't see the use in waiting.
Your lips are intoxicating
Do my hips need some translating?
Let's be bad.
Here's the key for my ignition,
Hit the gas to my transmission!
When you hear the things I'm wishin'
You won't offer opposition!
Let's prohibit Prohibition!
Let's be bad!

Still, while Smash will have to try very hard in order to beat the pulse-pounding, Fosse-esque chutzpah of "Let's Be Bad" (an upcoming five-episode arc for Uma Thurman is sure to add DRAMA!), I got to thinking that 2012 is actually going to be quite a fine year for fans of musicals on screen. With eight episodes of Smash behind us and many more to come (it has been renewed for a second season, but I worry this news will force them to stretch things out to breaking point) the year has certainly gotten off to an appropriately red-hued start, but what else is there? America has already seen the release of Joyful Noise, a choir musical starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton, which is apparently still getting a local release at some point, but I wouldn't be surprised if it went direct-to-DVD just to punish me. I mean, hello, Australia made Burlesque into a mini-hit so why shouldn't we get Joyful Noise on the big screen?

Elsewhere there is more entries in the ever-expanding teen dance subgenre with Step Up: Revolution and Streetdance 2 3D (awkward movie title alert!) and there is apparently musical enjoyment to be had in Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress and the Lebanaese Where Do We Go Now?, which won the audience award at last year's Toronto International Film Festival. Animated Dorothy of Oz will be trying to cross over as a mainstream musical and there there is that Katy Perry live documentary, too. The Australian film industry is getting in on the act as well, with the late 2012 release of The Sapphires, a musical telling the tale of four aboriginal women who form a soul outfit and tour for the troops in Vietnam. Australian audiences love a good musical and one the biggest local hits of recent years was Bran Nue Dae so I don't see why Wayne Blair's film, which will star Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Chris O'Dowd (yes, the cute Irish bloke from Bridesmaids), can't replicate that success if its any good. Following similar territory will be Salim Alki's Sparkle, a remake of Joel Schumacher's cult classic from 1976. Noteworthy for being the last work of Whitney Houston and set to feature original songs from Houston and her castmembers, a lot of attention will surely circle this tale that predates the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls.

The two big musical titles of the year, however, are adaptations of hit Broadway shows. Before Les Misérables comes Rock of Ages, which is set for an American summer release and I secretly hold out hope for it. Despite looking for a glorified, big budget, big screen version of Glee (Wow, need to stop using that show as a reference point for bad jukebox musicals, don't I?), it is directed by Adam Shankman who has directed just one great movie in his life, but that one great movie is Hairspray. Plus, any excuse to see Catherine Zeta-Jones hoofing it up on screen is already doing a good job of getting me interested. Furthermore, that Julianne Hough was very nice in last year's wonderful Footloose remake. I do worry about Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and the rest of the cast, but a big screen musical needs little incentive from me to get my bum in a seat. The trailer (below) raised a few eyebrows for its taste levels, but I hope it's as stylishly fun as Hairspray proved to be.

As for Les Misérables... well, that one will be very interesting to see play out. It's being directed by recently Oscar minted Tom Hooper of The King's Speech and John Adams, it's been given a plumb December release date and it stars some of the finest silver screen actors who have thus far never been given the chance to belt out of a number or two. Starring Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert and Anne Hathaway as Fantine alongside a cast of Amanda Seyfried, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne and newcomer (and proposed breakout star) Samantha Banks. The words "Oscar bait" feel tailor made for a project like this, and yet projects that get labelled as such rarely go off as planned when it comes to awards season.
No doubt everybody expects this production to do better than the Bille August non-musical version from 1998, but time will tell. I'm not as familiar with the show as others so I'm unsure as to how the musical version could play, but the haunting echo of Alan Parker's Evita must surely hangs low over expectations. Still, fans of film musicals rarely get projects like this that occupy so much advance hype so it will be fun while it lasts. I can only imagine what will happen if that Barbra Streisand led remake of Gypsy officially moves into production.

Have I forgotten any? Which ones are you most excited for (if any)? I won't hear of any anti-musical nonsense though, okay? Good.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Sometimes I feel like I spruik the virtues of The Astor Theatre so often that I work there. That's no the case, no. I just live with somebody who does. Still, does one really need to be accused of bias when discussing Jim Henson's Labyrinth? Surely not, for you see it's currently showing at The Astor for an 8-day rerelease engagement and I honestly can't implore you enough to go and see it. I wrote some words about the film over the weekend at Trespass Magazine that should, hopefully, go some distance to convincing you to take the plunge if you a) never have, or b) haven't for some time. I remember watching the film, the box office failure of which has been said sent Henson into depression, many, many years ago on a Sunday afternoon on ABC and the memories stuck: those fabulous creatures, the oddball David Bowie who I only knew from a few mainstream charting songs seen on Video Hits, the wonderful sets that are truly a marvel of design... seeing it all again digitally remastered on the big screen was just magic, too.

I'd like to think that people who recently got into The Muppets' 21st century reboot would give Labyrinth a chance, even if it wears its 1980s imagery with pride. Sure, there's an immense sense of joy to be had in seeing films that are as incredibly dated as this - how, for instance, did a film aimed primary at children get away with so many close-ups of David Bowie's prominent crotch? - but the film's virtues are so much greater than just kitsch and nostalgia. If you have ever hoped that big budget special effects extravaganza's had less special effects, then Labyrinth is the film for you. In fact, there's a certain amount of irony to be found in realising the movie's most visually unappealing moment, at least in 2012, is the "fire dance" scene that was the lone moment of the film to lean exclusively on computer graphics to achieve its look.

And if the visuals, fabulous storytelling and creativity aren't enough to get your bum in a seat then why not the rather fabulous soundtrack by David Bowie and Trevor Jones. Jones' original score doesn't get much praise, especially when placed within close proximity to divine original Bowie tracks like "Underground" and "Magic Dance", but it's a sublimely atmospheric piece of work full of synthesisers, saxophones, guitars and drums. It's as '80s as it gets and it's wonderful. Bowie, it must be said, is a hoot as the Goblin King and was early proof that was sure to become one of the more interesting musician-to-actors out there (further evidenced by The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Prestige, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and so on). With his massive hair and flamboyantly outfits he is such a presence on screen that even if he was embarrassed by it then he certainly knew how to make it look like he was having a blast.

Sadly, only those in or around Melbourne will get the chance to witness this world first, but hopefully those who can take the trip through the labyrinth that is so richly rewarding.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Life Before looper's Eyes

Because the movies I want to be reminded of when thinking about the new Rian Johnson film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are, naturally, The Life Before Her Eyes and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Naturally.


They even got the weird overly Photoshopped look of Uma Thurman right on Gordon-Levitt's face!

Friday, April 6, 2012

When Bad Posters Strike: This Means War (French Edition)

Lord knows I have given this movie enough words on this blog - I already regaled against the American poster, and the film itself was an absolute disaster - but I hadn't seen this French poster for the movie until just yesterday and I found it to be such a hopeless mess that I just had to mention it.

I'm not sure if you've seen This Means War, but you certainly get the idea that it's about two spies vying for the attention of one woman (that'd be Reese Witherspoon). According to the French, however, Witherspoon love interest character (that's all she is, nothing else) is not so much a "love interest" as she is a "love target" ready to be fired against. Maybe the French poster designers are having a joke and saying that Reese's character is so awful that she deserves to be targeted for extermination? Maybe, I certainly couldn't blame them after having seen the film. Alas...

The fact that this poster is in colour, as opposed to the original's more monochrome colour scheme, only amplifies the initial irksome nature of Chris Pine and Tom Hardy pointing presumably loaded weapons at the woman of their central conflict. And yet it's the name change to Target that makes this even worse. Objectifying, obviously, but disturbingly violent, too. She is little more than a "target" for these two bozos to shoot down is certainly what the poster appears to be selling the movie as.

And why, WHY, is the title in English when everything else in French? The tagline even says "2 Espions - 1 Cible", which I assume translates to "2 spies - 1 target" so why not just keep it as CIBLE? Throw in that weird hypnotists circular pattern in the background and Chris Pine's ever-growing forehead and it's easy to be utterly baffled by this. Posters confuse me sometimes, they really do.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ishioka Now

I have spoken about the late, great Eiko Ishioka several times here at the blog. This year I said some words about her sad passing in January and then just last week when I reviewed her fourth and final collaboration with Indian director Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror, in which Ishioka stakes an early claim to a second Academy Award with her astonishing designs that fill the screen like a high fashion fabric shop exploded on screen. Furthering on from those, however, I cannot recommend this article by Lynn Hirschberg at W Magazine that looks at her creative life that begun by being told she's never become a success because she's a woman and how she was able to turn her immense creative vision into something that became cinematically appropriate. It's a relatively short piece so it's easily digestible over breakfast for lunch or during a particularly brief procrastination session, and yet still paints such a lovely image of the woman who once told Jennifer Lopez that she couldn't make a costume "more comfortable" because "you’re supposed to be tortured."

Some segments that I particularly loved include this one from Francis Ford Coppola who hired Ishioka to create the distinctive and immaculate costumes for Bram Stoker's Dracula, for which she ultimately won an Academy Award, after having seen her design for a local Japanese poster for his Apocalypse Now (which you can see up above).

Singh and Eiko met in the late nineties when Singh hunted her down after seeing her work for Dracula, which was only Eiko’s second job as a film costume designer. Francis Ford Coppola had collaborated with Eiko on the poster for the Japanese release of Apocalypse Now and felt her sensibility was crucial for Dracula. “My strategy in hiring her—an independent, a weirdo outsider with no roots in the business—worked,” the director wrote at the time. “The script was envisaged for very young actors, so I said to myself, Let’s spend our money not on sets but on the costumes, because the costumes are closest to the actors. I decided that the costumes would be the set.”

The presence of Singh, perhaps the collaborator that she is nowadays most remember fall, lingers over the piece. Their films, The Cell, The Fall, Immortals and Mirror Mirror are all delightfully bonkers in the way mainstream ideas are blended and fused with out-of-the-box lunacy, horte couture and darkness. His anecdote about Ishioka's goal made me giggle.

Mostly, though, it remains surprising—and original. “It’s very hard to come up with unique work again and again and again,” Singh said. “And Eiko never repeated herself. Her goal was not to be an ambassador for Japanese culture or Western culture. Her goal was to be an ambassador for a new world: Eiko’s planet. And she was.”

Lastly, anything about Ishioka's collaboration with Faye Dunaway in the 1980s just seems ripe for amusing imagery, don't you think? West meets East and a hard boiled egg.

When she became the chief art director for Parco in 1971, she seized the opportunity in remarkable ways: Her campaigns were provocative, beautiful, and subversive. Her defiantly antiproduct ads featured portraits of often naked women with taglines like “Girls Be Ambitious!” or “Don’t Stare at the Nude; Be Naked.” She used models from Morocco, India, and Kenya in native garb, along with New York street kids in their eighties New Wave splendor. In a particularly memorable series with Dunaway from 1979, Eiko photographed the actress in a gold and silver Issey Miyake satin robe and headdress. ­Dunaway’s arms are spread wide, and two young Japanese children—Eiko’s nieces—are embraced by the folds of her kimono. The girls are wearing red dresses that reveal their nipples, and a red pigment covers their eyes like a mask. The effect is mysterious, grand, and vaguely religious. The ad reads: “Can West Wear East?” “It was a rather bold question,” Eiko later said. “The image looks to the future—to a time when East and West become one.”

Aah, to be a fly on the wall of those meetings! Please do read the entire W Magazine piece as it's a wonderful piece.

If you're unfamiliar with Eiko Ishioka's work then going along to the movies and seeing Mirror Mirror on the big screen is certainly a great place to start. It's truly some of her finest, most intricate work. But, then again, all of her work is must see so just watch anything she ever had a creative hand in and I'm sure you'll be blown away. This tumblr is also a nice little easy resource for images and video of Ishioka's work and there are some fabulous behind the scenes images of her work being modeled and tested - I particularly love the chess armada hats (to the right) and the shots of her workshop filled with tables upon tables of delicately worked hats, headdresses and masks.

I've included some of my favourite images below and hopefully you can understand why I continue to harp on about her and her work. She was truly an innovative creator whose work made for instant event status. She will continue to be missed - I can only hope Tarsem Singh finds a worthy heir to the Ishioka throne of costuming for his next movie. Let her influence on design live on, and even if the Academy did shamefully leave her out of their In Memoriam package maybe they can make it up to her by awarding her one last statue at next year's ceremony. I doubt anybody could she she isn't deserving of it.