Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Review: In Darkness

In Darkness
Dir. Agnieszka Holland
Country: Poland / Canada / Germany
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 145mins

The title says it all, really. In Darkness – the absence of light. This rather bleak, Oscar-nominated WWII drama (is there any other kind?) from Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) very literally presents a world that is so dark there are times where it appears we have no hope of ever seeing the rays of the sun again. Thankfully, despite an excessive runtime, over nearly two and a half hours, the way darkness is shown on the screen is at least captivating and mesmerising. The real star of this Polish/Canadian/German co-production is cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska, who performs a delicate dance of shadow and light within the claustrophobic confines of the Polish sewer system in the final year of German occupation. Even when the work of Holland screenwriter David F Shamoon – adapting In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust by Robert Marshall – feels like it’s stretching itself too thin, In Darkness never loses its visual strength.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Monday, July 30, 2012

MIFF 2012 Review: Holy Motors

Holy Motors
Dir. Leos Carax
Country: France
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 115mins

Like the lyrics of the Kylie Minogue song that humorously pops up midway through this French odyssey oddity, I can’t quite get Holy Motors out of my head. Using this 2001 pop phenomenon on the soundtrack – especially for a film that errs so far from the mainstream that it will actually hurt some of the gay audiences who attend purely for the Minogue factor – was a particularly inspired choice and just one of the many moments that pepper Leos Carax’s wholly original return to cinema. Some 13 years after his last feature-length enterprise, Pola X, Carax’s much ballyhooed film is one that genuinely inspires claims of true originality and is done with such panache that it’s hard not to be impressed simply by pure virtue of its existence.

Holy Motors is many things: maddening, confounding, joyous, “the magic of the act”. It shares much in the realm of unexplained mysteries as David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive - and I don’t just mean the shots of limousines cruising around darkened boulevards – in that to find the “meaning” of the film is probably to go about watching it the entirely wrong way. And yet there’s fun to be had in extracting reason out of the series of events that Carax presents and just how the puzzle, and that’s most definitely what it is, fits together. It’s straightforward, but hardly straight, and that’s a pleasure to behold.

Denis Lavant stars as Monsieur Oscar, a man who, from the scant clues scattered about throughout Carax’s screenplay, spends his days being chauffeured around Paris in the back of a stretch limousine that is driven by the Céline, played by Edith Scob dressed in a white pantsuit from heaven. He sets out on a series of appointments where he portrays characters for the entertainment of invisible watchers, like a real world Big Brother. While it’s hard to determine what the sewer-dwelling Merde who kidnaps passive supermodels has to do with the father picking his daughter up from a party, all ten identities appear to represent facets of the human condition that somebody somewhere is apparently willing to pay to watch. It’s a fascinating concept that makes for fun real world considerations. Is that crazy person barking down the street at 11pm just an actor? What fun to imagine. Furthermore, the implications that Oscar himself is a performance begs the question of whether this man really exists. A prologue suggests that Carax’s entire enterprise is some grand cinematic prank, but who can really tell? Certainly not I after just a single viewing.

Soon enough it appears that Carax is playing his latest film as a sort of modern day Jacques Tati. Using the concept of this man adopting disguises and characters to shed light on the lunacies of the modern world, whether that be passerbys in the street ignoring a old beggar lady or the ridiculous nature of motion capture. The black and white silent film that occasionally pops up throughout the proceedings recalls the nostalgic notions of Hugo and The Artist as Carax uses a vast array of technical abilities from captivating and transformative make-up to perplexing visual effects to turn his vision into reality. Scob donning a mask ala Eyes Without a Face at film’s end feels like Carax turning cinema in on itself like a full circle, perhaps hoping for a blessed melding of the current and the modern with the vitality of the past. One of the most curious moments sees Oscar’s world turn into a ugly mix of pixellated nonsense, while another sees him (perhaps) showing genuine admiration for what computers can do.

It’s a film of juxtaposition and dichotomy and no more is this evident that in the way Carax turns his rather jovial and playful first half on its head and gives his post-musical interlude sequences a mournful sensibility. It’s almost as if Carax himself is doubting his own hypothesis as a splendidly cast Kylie Minogue croons lyrics of a torch ballad: “Who were we / when we were / who we were back then.” That Holy Motors’ final scene (one that must be seen to be believed) is a very definite indictment on the callous nature that film has been replaced by digital, the mere fact that Carax has been able to make such a beautiful, sumptuous, almost endlessly intriguing film using the digital medium is certainly a cause for thought. He certainly couldn’t have made this film with its playful take on structure and narrative in the so-called good old days, and Carax is surely aware of the irony to be found in the loss of one medium forging his own acceleration of creativity in its replacement.

In frequent collaborater Denis Lavant, Carax has found a wonderful partner in crime. Much like the film itself, Lavant never goes truly overboard in any of his portrayals, and yet the madness is most definitely there. Scob and Minogue are lovely, with the popette proving surprisingly well versed in her role as a mirror to Oscar. Jeanne Disson as an unpopular schoolgirl in one of the film’s more restrained sequences is particularly impressive, while Elise Lhomeau’s scene is perhaps the one that viewers should pay most attention to. It’s Holy Motors’ “Club Silencio” in a way.

As it stands, Holy Motors is sure to be the most maddeningly examined film of 2012. An experience in every sense of the word, and yet one that never tailspins into tiresome drivel. I don’t claim to know anything about the rest of Carax’s career – nor the personal life that I have since discovered finds a very definite place in the film’s narrative – but I found Holy Motors to be a very engaging film that will likely surprise people. It’s rich, but never extravagantly so, told from an important voice. A-

Holy Motors screens at the Melbourne International Film Festival (2 Aug-19 Aug) and is released theatrically on 23 August.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: The Sapphires

The Sapphires
Dir. Wayne Blair
Country: Australia
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 100mins

A film like The Sapphires works in much the same way as a pop song. People will presume that it’s all very easy to just chuck some chintzy, bright colours and some catchy hooks around its attractive stars and the entire enterprise will sell itself. Sadly, people’s idea of pop music is largely just as misinformed as it is on popcorn movies. There’s a delicate routine of tightropes and juggling that goes in to perfecting a crowd-pleasing, mainstream-baiting slice of multiplex fare. The debut feature of director Wayne Blair and Tony Briggs, adapting his own stage show alongside Keith Thompson, will likely be criticised by many for being as attractively empty as a Katy Perry song, but the skill and sly moments of real panache help turn The Sapphires into a shining example of the type of film this country really ought to be making more of.

Read the rest at Onya Magazine

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Bad Posters Strike: Freeloaders

You know you've messed up when even the star of your film can't wrap their head around the poster. Case in point: Freeloaders

"is that a real poster?" - Josh Lawson.

Er, sorry Josh, but it sure is. I alerted Lawson, a likable Aussie actor who has been fluttering about between American and Australian productions for a few years now (earlier this year he appeared in Any Questions for Ben? as his TV series House of Lies aired to acclaim), to the poster for Freeloaders (a movie I had never heard of, quelle surprise) and his reply? "Wow! That is my head, but that is DEFINITELY not my body." Indeed.

Why they would feel the need to put Lawson's head onto a really unflattering shirtless torso is beyond me. Josh is a good looking man and I'm sure his body isn't so HORRIBLY EMBARRASSING that they should feel the need to place his head onto somebody else's. "Not sure why I got the topless guy, but still..." he said before calling it "weird". That's a good word for it: weird. Just look at the damned thing!

As others on my Twitter feed noted, it's using the same exact motif as Uncle Buck and, to a lesser degree, My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's a good idea when executed well. This, most definitely, is not. In fact, it looks like an inverted version of the poster to your left for Crazy on the Outside from last year. Freeloaders' poster is infinitely worse, but you get the picture.

I just can't fathom how this poster for Freeloaders was approved. It's a generally accepted fact that film casts (despite spending all day on set together, presumably doing little of any consequence while the crew set up shots) don't pose for ensemble film posters anymore. It's sad, but true, that it's a rarity, but thems the break. With this poster, I don't even think they were on the same planet as each other. As Lawson - presumably the lead of the film since his name is placed first on the cast list up top - himself tweeted me, "I think all the heads are supered on to the bodies!" There's Dave Foley's head staring off into the distance, Clifton Collins Jr looking mightily intense, Olivia Munn standing about as if she's the cardboard cutout ghost child from Three Men and a Baby, and then Jane Seymour looking terrifyingly like Mirage from The Incredibles. Or, as one Twitter follower suggested, "Ellen Barkin"(!!!) I don't even wanna know what's going on with the girl in the tartan skirt... aren't these people related?

Bad movie posters are a dime a dozen, but it takes a special kind of skill to be as bad as this one for Freeloaders.

Equalize This!

So, they're rebooting The Equalizer. Or, more to the point, they're adapting the original CBS television series, which ran from 1985-1989, into a new feature film. We're already off to a bad start as it is by pure virtue of this movie being made in the first place, but then consider that it's not a period piece, it's going to be filmed in Boston, and it already has 8 (EIGHT!) producers listed. While the chosen star, Denzel Washington, doesn't quite fit the same mold as Edward Woodward's original grey-haired baddie slayer, I can actually at least see him in the role as a modern day equivalent. Shame that "The Equalizer" of The Equalizer is just one quarter of why the original series worked so well.

Completely by coincidence I have actually been watching series one of The Equalizer for the past week. I've always had a particular fondness for the series, without ever being able to recall much about it other than it was set in New York City and starred a man with a really funny name. I remember being a wee tyke and when I should've been in bed I was spying on my parents watching The Equalizer in the living room. The images stuck. It's curious that this show was surely the first known existence of New York City and I happening upon one another and yet I grew an instant love for the city. I mean, The Equalizer doesn't exactly paint the rosiest of portraits for the greatest city in the world, and yet still something about those analogue city lights must have really gotten to me. I have distinct memories of the images, if not the stories. Of course, there is that blue fog shot from the opening credits that strikes me as rather iconic, too.

I'm not sure if The Equalizer could be made as a series today. The fact that it deals with rapists, murderers, kidnappers, fraudsters and stalkers certainly seems like prime time material in 2012, but the filming style and the evocative sense of time and place is - quite frankly - something that can't be replicated. The New York City of 2012 is a much different one to that of 1985. Sure, there are still all sorts of nasty crimes and villainous creeps out there, but the city, from a purely visual standpoint, had an aura that makes for some truly skeazy viewing. The opening credits (below) alone are a thrilling piece of decaying Manhattan imagery. It's just not going to be the same to see "The Equalizer" (whatever back story he may take) cleaning up the human trash of a city that's actually really sparkly. A city where a late night stroll down the street - hell, even under the Brooklyn Bridge! - is a picturesque night out rather than a terrifying, traumatic experience for all. The Equalizer in a city where looking behind you ever thirty seconds once the sun as set doesn't quite make sense. He was essentially cleaning up a dying city one scumbag at a time, but does the city need him that badly anymore? Wait, are we talking about The Equalizer or Christopher Nolan's Batman movies? In episode four a character walks through Times Square passed a theatre that is playing Bordello starring Linda Lovelace!

Similarly, one of the great aspects of the series is its frequent and recurring use of New York locations. Within the pilot episode alone we see the following shots. It's a glorious show to look at if, like me, you're a bit obsessed with New York City of all eras. Could a current television series even afford to do this? Girls is mostly Brooklyn, the Law & Order franchise don't make much use of big New York imagery, nor do any others that I can think of. There's a car chase on the Brooklyn Bridge for crying out loud!

Sorry, I got carried away. But what character, what atmosphere. That blue white light that the buildings have in the night sky is entrancing.

After Woodward, Manhattan, and 1985, the final element that truly made The Equalizer what it was was the music of Stewart Copeland. I think we can all agree that his work on this series was by far the greatest thing anybody associated with The Police ever did (okay, maybe "El Tango de Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge!, but oh my lord how much do I hate Sting and The Police? SO MUCH!) Much like Jan Hammer's work on Miami Vice before it, and Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks afterwards, Copeland's score was the pulsating, electric beat that kept this dangerous city moving. And yet despite all of the blaring synthesizers and electric drums, there are unique and surprising instruments scattered about to make it really interesting. Love it.

"The Equalizer Busy Equalizing" | "Lurking Solo"

This new spin on The Equalizer being filmed in Boston is just crazy. Perhaps this new version, based on a script by Richard Wenk, will be set in Boston and they can utilise that city's look to their advantage, but then why bother even calling it The Equalizer? I know the series has a cult following, but I wasn't aware of it being all that much of a brand. Certainly not as much as some other series of the time that have already been turned into modern day features.

It's always good to see a classy thriller, and with a budget of just $50mil (Washington apparently getting $20mil of that so you can do the maths) it will fall into that mid-range sweet spot that studios seem to be finding themselves attracted to more and more as the budgets for their action blockbuster tentpoles skyrocket leaving less money to be spent elsewhere. Washington usually delivers the goods in these type of projects and perhaps whoever they assign to direct will be able to lend it a visual style that works in harmony with the memories of the original series. One name brought up in the linked article up top is Nicolas Winding Refn and I think we all know where I stand on him and his own retro masterpiece, Drive.

The odds, as Robert McCall might say, are certainly against them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Magic Mike

Magic Mike
Dir. Steven Soderbergh
Country: USA
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 110mins

Once you get past the thongs, the uniforms, and the sleek choreographed stripping dance routines–admittedly, the main attraction of Magic Mike for most audiences–it’s just another day at the office for Steven Soderbergh. Lensed with a typical bleach blond colour palate, Soderbergh’s dramatisation of the life of star Channing Tatum is actually a very solidly told, frequently hilarious, cheekily sly drama about a man trying to make the most for himself in trying times. That there are a whole bunch of sexy men gyrating for the thrill of us all is just one of the ways that Soderbergh and screenwriter Reid Carolin smartly rewrites the script of this shoulda-been-clichéd seen-it-all-before story. Why wasn’t this in 3D?

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Monday, July 23, 2012

Brief Thoughts on the Emmy Nominations: Beach Party!

I have so little to say on the Emmy nominations that were announced last week. They seem to nominate the exact same shows and the exact same performers year after year that each year's nomination ballot bleeds into the next. Apart from this year's inclusions of Girls (so very deserving) and Veep, I honestly couldn't tell you what was different from the nominees announces 12 months ago to those announced today. It certainly doesn't help that I don't even watch many of the nominated programs like Breaking Bad (my fault, I know) and Game of Thrones (not interested, sorry) to have a vested interest in their awards success, but that still doesn't mean I can't look at Michael C Hall getting nominated for Dexter and know the voters are being lazy, or spot Kathy Bates being nominated for that detective series that got axed and figuring they clearly don't care about actually trying to adhere to the definition of "outstanding".

Nevertheless, we love Mad Men, Girls, 30 Rock, Homeland, American Horror Story, and the random episodes of Louis and Modern Family that I've seen lately so that's always good. Still sad to see nothing for Cougar Town, Revenge, The Closer, and only a measly screenwriting nod for Community. Oh well, lumps... ya gotta take 'em.

Still, there were a few things I wanted to mention. How about the Original Music & Lyrics category? I'd be hard-pressed to choose between "Let Me Be Your Star" from Smash, and "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore" as performed by Neil Patrick Harris on the Tony Awards. Jeepers! I think I'd eventually put my vote down for the Smash hit (zing!) since it doesn't have an awkward interlude with Brooke Shields and Bobby Cannavale, although it's a shame Harris' hosting wasn't cited, although I'm not sure what category award show hosting goes into these days? It used to have its own - remember when Hugh Jackman won the second award of his potential EGOT for hosting the Tony's? - but not anymore. The Emmys are confusing like that.

"Let Me Be Your Star" | "It's Not Just for Gays Anymore"

While the vote would go to the former, it doesn't feature the lyric "it's not just for gays / we'd be twice as proud to have you if you go both ways" so maybe I'd have to reconsider.

Elsewhere, I loved that Lisa Kudrow's Web Therapy got nominated for... something. I'm not entire sure what "Outstanding Special Class Short Format Live-Action" is since the category also features nominations for something called Parks and Recreation: April and Andy's Road Trip and "webisodes" of 30 Rock? I guess it's an online thing? Who can tell with the Emmys? Kudrow, by the way, is also an executive producer on Who Do You Think You Are?, which was also nominated. Great day for her, then.

I loved seeing Margaret Cho, my favourite comedian for a while there, nominated for her performances as "best waiter in the world" Kim Jong-Il on 30 Rock. Beach party!

Also nice to see my future husband Max Greenfield nominated. I've never watched the Zooey Deschanel led sitcom New Girl, but that's because nobody told me Greenfield was on it. And frequently parading about without a shirt on (as the pictorial evidence below demonstrates) as it turns out. He was so adorable as Leo D'Amato on Veronica Mars that I'll always have a fondness for him, and knowing he's now an Emmy nominee means that he'll at least be able to get a job for a while yet.

Why did nobody mention any of this to me? I guess I have to start watching New Girl now, right? And just fast forward through all the Deschanel-being-Deschanel bits.

Now, we all know that women are basically ruling the television right now, yeah? If the whopping SEVEN nominees for comedy actress wasn't a telltale sign, one also just has to look at the nominees for Best Actress Mini-Series or TV Movie. You could have told me this line-up was like a perfect storm of an Oscar field and I'd have believed you. Look at who they nominated (not necessarily the product)!

Oh sure, Ashley Judd we could give or take, but maybe we can live in a world where she gives frequently amazing performances. She's apparently good enough in Missing (wasn't that just a botched TV series that got axed so was turned into a "mini-series"?) to be nominated alongside these four fabulous women so we'll take the theory that she must be good in the role and run with it.

Then, of course, there are all the other fabulous actresses that were nominated. Jessica Lange! Judy Davis! Frances Conroy! Maggie Smith! Sarah Paulson! Temple Grandin! Amazing. A shame though that Laura Dern's face won't be making an appearance at the awards since Enlightened went and ignored the series entirely. Still, that comedy actress category is just off the wall amazing. Who says women aren't funny? Oh, misogynistic pricks, that's right. Never mind...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Chair for No Seasons

For all of the criticisms that social media - specifically Twitter and Facebook - get for the way they actually make people less social, I really can't agree. I feel they just put a spotlight on the fact that so few people in our day-to-day lives have the same degree of interest in things and that there are actually a whole tonne of people out there who we may not have necessarily met (or will ever get the chance to given some live in such far off places as Guyana and South Africa), but whom we're able to form surprisingly strong bonds with.

Of course, it's also a great way of realising that no matter how niche you think an opinion is, there are always plenty of people out there who hold it too. Take, for instance, the chair from Like Crazy. I had no idea that people hated that god damned piece of shit construction as much as I did, but after mentioning it I got some wonderful reactions like:


"I think of that rubbish chair Anton Yelchin made in LIKE CRAZY and I burst out laughing"

"The chair was appalling"

"it actually looks like the chairs we would have in the play area in pre-school. And they were awful."

"How was his furniture business doing so well? He seemed only capable of making the one item."

"So ugly!"

"I just remembered furniture making was a plot point in a film and my heart shrank three sizes"

It's like a whole community of people who thought that damn chair was just the most heinous piece of shit. Of course, it doesn't help that the film it appears in just gets worse and worse every time I think of it. I like that you can see Anton Yelchin's face (presumably from a poster in the same exhibit at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood (an exhibit! featuring THE CHAIR!) hovering about in the top right corner like a ghost, chained to the bloody chair for the rest of his ghostly existence. It's as if he's saying "Why did I dumb Jennifer Lawrence for Felicity freakin' Jones?!?!" Even if death his character can't escape that retched woman and that hideous chair.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
Dir. Christopher Nolan
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 160mins

When it comes to discussing Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe, one almost doesn’t even need to bother recapping. Batman (Christian Bale) has been shunned from Gotham City for a crime he didn’t commit and his alter ego Bruce Wayne has become a reclusive cripple. It’s best to enter the trilogy-ending The Dark Knight Rises knowing as little about the substantial plot (at 160 minutes there is A LOT of plot, you guys!) as possible so we’ll leave it at that. The Dark Knight Rises is indeed long, but Nolan never fails to fill the screen with exciting flights of fancy. As somebody who has major issues over his previous two Batman film – not to mention knowing next to nothing about comic book lore –I was surprised at just how much of a great, thrilling time I had. It’s a film that genuinely earns its stripes as a grand, epic work of cinema.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

MIFF 2012 Schedule

It’s that time of the year again where Melburnians (and fly-ins) take 17 days out of their lives and dedicate them to seeing as many films from as many countries as possible all in the name of MIFF. The Melbourne International Film Festival is a great time of year if you can get around the inevitable festival flu, the ridiculous art films that strive for relevance, and the diet consisting entirely of potato. Last year I saw 60 films as a part of the MIFF 60th anniversary blogathon, but this year that number will be cut significantly. I have 26 films booked so far for the festival proper, plus a couple of screeners, and a bunch of advanced media screenings so all up I’ll be doing pretty good.

Time to have a look at what I’ve got inked in to the planner, shall we?

Carré Blanc
(dir. Jean-Baptiste Léonetti)
Some sort of future love story hybrid that takes inspirationg from Soylent Green and 1984. A part of MIFF's "Night Shift" segment so its genre all the way, which is just what you want at 11.30pm on a Friday night after work, yes?
Fri 3, 11.30pm, GU5

Into the Abyss
(dir. Werner Herzog)
Herzog's death row documentary doesn't have a local distributor so that made it an even bigger must see. It's going to be a tough sit so early on in the day, but at least this film will surely feature less technical snafus than last year's screening of Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Well, here's hoping anyway.
Sat 4, 1.30pm, GU6

The Sessions
(dir. Ben Lewin)
This Sundance winner has gotten big Oscar buzz for its stars John Hawkes (in a role that feels similar to Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, he'll be up against Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln) and Helen Hunt, who's looking for a critical comeback as a woman who becomes a "sex surrogate".
Sat 4, 6.30pm, Hoyts

(dir. Various)
We've been excited about this film for a while and was definitely hoping it would show up in one of MIFF's late night genre slots. Lo and behold here it is. Fair warning, the MIFF guide lists the film's local distributor as Roadshow Films and given their penchant for treating genre fair with little respect, I'd suggest that MIFF will be the only place to get to see this horror anthology. The late night slot will be a hoot, surely.
Sat 4. 11.30pm, GU5

Dark Horse
(dir. Todd Solondz)
Another high profile film without local distribution, making its must see value go through the roof. If Solondz's name alone wasn't enough, he supposedly gets a killer performance out of Donna Murphy (not that that's hard, but we so rarely get to see them). Screens with a short named Double or Nothing.
Mon 6, 4.00pm, Forum

(dir. Ursula Meier)
A big critical reception at Berlinale put this French/Swiss film high on my radar. I don't actually know much about it at all so it could prove to be a real surprise of the fest.
Mon 6, 6.30pm, GU6

The Sound of My Voice
(dir. Zal Batmanglij)
This debut feature about cults has not gotten the same response as, say, Martha Marcy May Marlene, but the response it has received has me mightily intrigued. The marketing has been curious and Brit Marling is a curious presence on screen.
Mon 6, 9.00pm, GU6

Wuthering Heighs
(dir. Andrea Arnold)
I try not to schedule too many films that have imminent release dates, but I have been anticipating Andrea Arnold's revisionist take on the Bronte novel for far too long to ignore it. Given I've seen Arnold's first two films at MIFF prior I think it's entirely fitting that I see her latest here, too.
Tue 7, 6.30pm, GU3

Mosquita Y Mari
(dir. Aurora Guerrero)
An American queer drama that sounds very promising. I had never heard of it before, but that's what festival's are all about, isn't it? This, Keep the Lights On, and Facing Mirrors are, as far as I can tell, the only fiction films with a predominant queer bent so I'm looking forward to them all. This one also has particular interest in its use of the Californian landscape.
Wed 8, 4.00pm, ACMI

Errors of the Human Body
(dir. Eron Sheean)
A "psycho-scientific thriller" that comes to MIFF as a result of an Australian and German co-production. I had heard concerning things about the other film in this time -slot that I wanted to see - the Korean animated drama, King of Pigs - so went with this little-buzzed title instead.
Wed 8, 9.00, ACMI

Jayne Mansfield's Car
(dir. Billy Bob Thornton)
Word out of Berlin was not favourable, but I'm always willing to give films that look at American identity and, hey, the title is great. An early morning slot seems appropriate if it proves to be a dud.
Thu 9, 11.am, The Forum

This Ain't California
(dir. Marten Persiel)
A documentary about the influence of Californian culture on East Germany... basically, this film was made for me to see at MIFF. That it comes just before Something for Nothing will make for a cruisy evening, I say. The idea behind the film reminds me of last year's Pool Party in the way it investigated the influence of such nostalgic American imagery on others. I really enjoyed that one so hopefully I'll like this one, too.
Fri 10, 6.30pm, GU5

Something for Nothing: The Art of Rap
(dir. Ice-T & Andy Baybutt)
One of last year's most invigorating MIFF experiences was seeing the energetic Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest in a packed weekend crowd of head-bopping festival attendees. This year's entry in the annual hip-hop parade is this examination of the rise of rap by one of the genres most prominent figures, Ice-T. 9pm on Friday is gonna leave us all on such a high!
Fri 10, 9.00pm, GU5

100 Bloody Acres
(dir. The Cairnes Bros)
Aussie horror comedy that comes with a swag load of buzz and a late night screening that amps up the atmosphere and the jazz in the air. Basically, humans are used as fertiliser in this movie starring Angus Sampson, Damon Herriman, Oliver Ackland and John Jarratt. I have a feeling this is gonna be fun!
Fri 10, 11.30pm, GU3

Ruby Sparks
(dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
Little Miss Sunshine is still a perfectly fine movie - albeit one that got a tad too swept up in Oscar-based hyperbole - and I hope the latest from Dayton and Faris is as sparkly. If little else, there's a bit of Annette Bening fun to be had.
Sat 11, 6.30pm, GU6

Sleepless Night
(dir. Frédéric Jardin)
The description of this film got me intrigued - kinda sounds like Gasper Noe's Enter the Void without as much "void", if you catch my drift - and it's the weekend my mate is down from Sydney so we'll be seeing this. I dunno, why not?
Sat 11, 9.00pm, GU5

(dir. Franck Khalfoun)
Given I just watched the 1980 original and thought it to be one of the most terrifying movies I've ever seen, I think it's only fitting that I go see the Elijah Wood-starring remake. I am very intrigued to say the least. Yet again, the late night crowd is sure to be jazzed by this supposedly very violent feature.
Sat 11, 11.30pm, GU3

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present
(dir. Matthew Akers & Jeff Dupre)
I'm not entirely sure why, but I am so very, very excited for this documentary on Marina Abramaovic. I had been hoping it would show up at MIFF since it was likely a direct-to-DVD option in Australia since Abramovic's name doesn't have quite the same cache as it does amongst the New York scene in America. "The Artist is Present" has a great ring to it, too, and I hope it has some really fascinating insights into the artist's process.
Mon 13, 11am, The Forum

(dir. Michael Haneke)
One of the big titles of MIFF is Haneke's Amour, hot on the heels of its Palme d'Or win and not receiving a local release until around February next year to capitalise on its red hot Academy Award prospects. I wish I was seeing the earlier screening on the second day of the fest, but work calls at that time so Monday evening it is.
Mon 13, 6.30pm, GU6

A Letter to Momo
(dir. Hiroyuki Okiura)
Japanese animated drama about a girl who finds an unfinished letter from her deceased father addressed to her. Sounds like it could be potent stuff. A buddy of mine, fellow Melbourne film critic Thomas Caldwell, is the man behind the Next Gen segment (films aimed at, or at least suitable for, younger audiences). Year in, year out, I find Next Gen is ignored by many cinephiles, but I've found some real gems in there over the year.
Tue 14, 1.00pm, ACMI

Facing Mirrors
(dir. Negar Azarbayjani)
Sounds like a fascinating film out of Iran. A conservative and a pre-op transsexual driving through Tehran certainly sounds like fertile ground for an exciting movie of sexual, gender, and religious politics. Here's hoping, anyway...
Tue 14, 4.00pm, ACMI

Neighbouring Sounds
(dir. Kleber Mendonça Filho)
We don't get to see many movies from Brazil around here, and Neighbouring Sounds' heavily buzzed about anti-thriller certainly piqued my interest. At the festival launch last week they played the below trailer and it's a wonderfully put together package. The film looks handsomely made, modern and apparently the sound design is truly special.
Tue 14, 6.30pm, GU5

First Position
(dir. Bess Kargman)
Looks like this ballet documentary could very easily be gunning for Every Little Step's mantle as feel good theatre documentary. Festivals can always use a bit of levity when surrounded by so much hard-edged drama and misery.
Wed 15, 11.00am, ACMI

In the Fog
(dir. Sergei Loznitsa)
I heard great things about this title out of Cannes - alongside Wuthering Heighs, there is certainly some big cinematography going on. Was recently picked up by local distributor Sharmill Films, but it's always good to check these things out because you never know what will happen when they finally get released.
Wed 15, 6.30pm, ACMI

Alois Nebel
(dir. Tomás Lunák)
Some adult, black and white, European animation? Sure! Selected by the Czech Republic as their entry for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, I know absolutely nothing about it, but I've heard some people were quite high on it. A bit of animation always goes down well, I reckon.
Thu 16, 1.30pm, ACMI

Keep the Lights On
(dir. Ira Sachs)
An American film with a very Danish bent. A story of closeted gay men living in New York, but starring the likes of Thure Lindhardt (so good in Brotherhood, one of my absolute favourite films from MIFF 2010) and Paprika Steen. We all love Paprika Steen, don't we?
Thu 16, 9.00pm, GU6

The Hunt
(dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
Speaking of Paprika Steen... she's not in The Hunt, but she *was* in Festen, Vinterberg's dogme masterpiece from the '90s that will forever make a new film worth inspecting. Mads Mikkelsen won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his role as a man wrongfully accused of abusing children. Sounds like very heady stuff, but Mikkelsen is always worth watching.
Fri 17, 9.00pm, The Forum

Mine Games
(dir. Richard Gray)
Two years ago, Richard Gray's charming Summer Coda was released. Grey is currently in post-production for a film about AFL, but in between those two he went to America to make this thriller. Hoping for a lot of fun!
Fri 17, 11.30pm, GU5

And that's all I have booked so far. Depending on money and availability I would very much like to get to Aleksandr Sokurov's Faust, the Oscar-winning Undefeated, the curious Berberian Sound Studio, Michael Glawogger's confronting Whore's Glory, French class drama Certain People, and - invitation pending (here's hoping!) - PJ Holden's much-awaited reteam with Toni Collette, Mental.

As for other titles? I've already seen Leos Carax's mind-bending paean to lost traditions in Holy Motors, and Luke Walker's Aussie doco Lasseter's Bones. Meanwhile, hoping to catch Beasts of the Southern Wild, Rampart, Flicker, and opening night selection The Sapphires before the festival begins, too. All in all... not to bad, I say. How about you? Anything you're particularly looking forward to? Let us know in the comments...

Ice Nymphs, a Branded Brain, and a Keyhole.

I know to call a Guy Maddin movie strange is completely beyond the point, but his movies can be really strange. I've been lucky enough to catch (read: find the time) three of this Canadian auteur's films that were previously unseen by me at the "Nocturnal Transmissions" retrospective of the director's work here in Melbourne. Screening at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, I've been disappointed that many of the titles I really wanted to see were only screening on Saturdays and Sunday evenings that are generally no go zones for me due to work. Still, considering there are next to no other ways to see these films that don't involve importing them from overseas on DVD, I've felt lucky enough to have been able to see the small amount that I have. And on the big screen no less.

Twilight of the Ice Nymphs was hailed as Maddin's first "full-colour.... 35mm 'big budget' picture" and, well, I guess you could say that it is. I mean, it's in colour and while I'm unsure as to its budgetary figures it certainly looks feasible that it may have cost more than some of his other, earlier work. Unfortunately the version I saw was not screened off of a 35mm print, but beggars can't be choosers and I certainly appreciated the exceptionally rare opportunity to watch Twilight on a big screen.

I'm not entirely sure what on Earth the film was trying to say and, I have to admit, a lot of the film (which I only saw last week) has exited my brain without leaving much of an impression. Having said that, however, it's truly a fascinating viewing experience and part of its interest lies in the way that Maddin's almost trademarked confusing oddness was translated to the world of colour film. He had - and continues to to this day - madee films in black and white, and given how strange most of his films are, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the upgrade (if you want to use that word) didn't blunt his significant voice. The action itself isn't all that interesting, but the method with which it is presented is a treat.

Visually, Maddin made Twilight of the Ice Nymphs into an experience that shares many similarities with Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1982 candy-coloured queer classic(?), Querelle. The sky is a permanent kaleidoscope of red, orange, yellow, pink, and purples, colours that frequently reflect off of the bright, lush sets. Elements of arts and crafts as well as a very obvious artificiality fill the frame whilst the actors strut about and recite their ridiculous dialogue in a very Shakespearean manner. Nigel Whitmey and Alice Krige in particular could be mistaken for having thought they were performing on a stage in front of a crowd. Furthermore, the story has elements of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, whilst the score at moments evokes Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet - Dance of the Knights". I have no idea what any of this means, but Maddin's next film was Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (which I recently wrote about for the Canadian "Possible Worlds" film festival) so maybe there was something here that Maddin needed to get out in order to get to a period of his filmmaking life that has come to be seen as, arguable, his most rewarding and mature phase.

A day later I went along to see one of those very films, the 2006 silent fantasy Brand Upon the Brain! While far from the excellence of Dracula or My Winnipeg, this was a very entertaining film. Alas, my body got the better of me and I dozed off for a bit at the start and then spent chapters 6-11 desperately needing to pee oh so desperately. So, really, not the best of viewing circumstances, but that only proves that it was good. In the grand scheme of things, Maddin is certainly one of the more accessible names in experimental/avant garde cinema and Brand Upon the Brain feels like a melding of his more esoteric work and his more commercial work.

"Commercial". Heh.

The third Maddin film that I've been lucky enough to see Keyhole, his latest work that is receiving its Australian premiere during the retrospective. Screening this Sunday the 22nd and then Tuesday the 24th and in 35mm, Keyhole is at times like a defiant rebuke to anybody who thought he'd gotten too arthouse mainstream with recent works. It's a maddening feature, one that appears to make little sense with its noir detective tale of ghosts and haunted houses (I think that's what it about, but I'm hardly going on the record). I don't think it's successful - and judging by this interview he gave with fellow Melbourne filmy type, Martyn Pedler, it wasn't quite what he had envisioned it to be, calling it "far more abstract". Make of that what you will - but as with all of Maddin's films, they are made for cinema viewing. It's easy to see one getting mindlessly distracted by a work like Keyhole if watching in the confines of your home. At least in the cinema there's no real escape and so even when Maddin is being an impenetrable scamp I was forced to admire the staccato editing and the rich, slippery performances of Isabella Rossellini and Jason Patric (Guy Maddin's version of an all-star cast).

I really wish I'd been able to find the time to see Archangel, Cowards Bend the Knee and Tales from the Gimli Hospital, but work and illness conspired against me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Review: The King is Dead!

The King is Dead!
Dir. Rolf de Heer
Country: Australia
Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 107mins

Neighbours… everybody needs good neighbours.

So the theme song goes to perennial Aussie soap, Neighbours. This ditty that originated in the 1980s would certainly feel right at home in a sarcastic context for the latest episode of Rolf de Heer’s increasingly eclectic career. De Heer’s new film, The King is Dead! (exclamation point courtesy of the opening credits), sees him swerve back to a similar suburban landscape that he navigated with Alexandra’s Project, except in this case it’s less claustrophobic chills and anti-erotic thrills, and more giggles and lampoons. Taking the scenario of a loud set of buffoonish neighbours, something surely everybody has had to endure at least once in their life, and twisting it into a chucklesome quasi black comedy is just another day in the office for the man behind such diverse films as indigenous comedy Ten Canoes, perverse Bad Boy Bubby, jazzy Dingo, and retro silent throw-back Dr Plonk.

Read the rest at Onya Magazine

Monday, July 16, 2012


It's been pretty hard to avoid the goings on at the San Diego Comic-Con. Even if one doesn't care for it all, it's still a fascinating mini universe to be privy to 24/7 thanks to the world of social media. Still, I stopped particularly caring for the annual parade once the geek's more or less took over the celluloid world. The meek have inherited the Earth. Or, at least, they have inherited the collective consciousness of movie studio moguls and there's seemingly no end in sight. For crying out loud, we got a Spider-Man "reboot" a mere 5 years after the trilogy-ending Spider-Man 3, and a ghastly 10 years after Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man blew the lid off of the box office and set about a game of one-upmanship that keeps on going and going and going. The world of superheroes, geeks, and all the rest is hardly an underground collective.

I didn't quite expect, however, the most off-putting news to come out of the whole enterprise has been the sparkling new subtitles for two Marvel properties. I greatly enjoyed Kenneth Branagh's Thor, which I thought was a whole lot of goofy, bordering on camp, fun with its cities of gold, flowing capes, giant laser-shooting robots in the desert, and horny woman lust. What doesn't sound like fun is a film named Thor: The Dark World. Sounds miserable if you ask me, especially since Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, has said he hopes the sequel utilises a tone more akin to Game of Thrones. Oh, and they've even hired a director that worked on the series. Yikes. My interest in this franchise has deteriorated rapidly since it lost both Branagh is original replacement, Patty Jenkins. I worry a Thor with his head stuck up his own arse will just not be the same and that'd be a shame since the original was favourite of the Marvel movies (Spider-Man 2 notwithstanding, but I'm not sure if we count that since it's technically not Marvel as we know it.)

The other Marvel announcement was that the second Captain America film will go by the title Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This film will be a much more interesting test since the Joe Johnston film ended with Chris Evans' muscular hero transported to the modern day to fight evil and join The Avengers. The original had such a fabulous retro sepia-toned look and distinctively unique art direction and costume design amongst the Marvel universe that it will be a shame to merely see it take upon the sunny look favoured by Iron Man and Joss Whedon's 2011 blockbuster. Don't get me wrong, they look wonderful and I'm always glad when a superhero movie doesn't replicate the grunge aesthetic of Christopher Nolan's Batman flicks, but Captain America: The First Avenger this will certainly not be.

Of course, I'm entirely illiterate on the world of comics so I have no idea what "The Winter Soldier" implies for the sequel, but much like Thor: The Dark World the title alone sounds like it has been drained of fun. Don't Marvel have trust in Stanley Kubrick, who once said that nobody wants to see movies titles with military themes don't do well? They should. The title is boring and charcoal-coloured. I guess Marvel figure that Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger didn't reach $200mil at the American box office (a number The Avengers made in one weekend - try and figure that one out!) so they have room to tinker with their product. Hopefully not into the ground, anyway.

And just in case their newfound serious 'tudes get in the way of more shirtless man action (a very worrying possibility given the lack of flesh found in The Avengers) then we'll always have these...

Bless 'em. I mean, it's hard to screw up that, so here's hoping they don't find a way.

Elsewhere at Comic-Con there was a presence for a film that I have been noticeably silent on. Gareth Evans' Monsters is still my favourite film of, gosh, the last however many years (five? six?) and so the news that his next project was going to be a return to Godzilla made me... worried. I didn't say a word on the blog, or even on Twitter, but we now have a teaser poster and a description (oh lordy, a description!) of a trailer. What'll they think of next?

There's also this video that I got at Bloody Disgusting of Gareth Edwards discussing the movie. I just... I don't know. I guess I will have to wait and see. I always kinda figured that Monsters was just a really, really fancy calling card for Evans to get into the industry, but I was so moved by it that I think I'll be watching Godzilla through a haze of sadness. I hope it's good enough to pull me through. He certainly has the enthusiasm and the heart judging from this video, but... well, it's Godzilla, you guys. I haven't liked a single one of those yet.

Kudos on the virginity joke. One thinks he's good company there.

Lastly, have you seen this poster for Man of Steel? The new Superman flick that has been described as having an Terrence Malick influence? I'll believe that when I see it, but for now...

My, what a heaving bosom you have. You know when your chest muscles cast their own shadows then you're clearly doing something right in the gym. But, hey, we already knew that.