... There’s a moment when Lindhardt’s Erik passes a graffiti sign that reads “FAKE YOUR BEAUTY”, which is actually a good motto for Keep the Lights On. Sachs has certainly made his film look very nice, a professionalism that is sadly lacking from much gay cinema, but it doesn’t quite cover up the fact that the movie doesn’t have anything particularly new to say – in the end it’s still a domestic drama about two people torn apart by tragedy. The actors, especially Lindhardt walking a tightrope of fey, are wonderful and Sachs has imbued the visuals with a warm New York glow without ever resorting to travelogue sightseeing imagery. The song score by Arthur Russell could nauseate some, but I found the dizzying crooning to be lovely. Meanwhile, the gay sex scenes are refreshingly realistic and open, plus the screenplay by Sachs and Mauricio Zacharias thankfully avoids preachy grandstanding about Gay Issues (although an out-of-nowhere AIDS scare is on the nose).
One of the very best films that I saw at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival was Peter Strickland's ode of italo-horror of the 1970s and '80s, Berberian Sound Studio. It was a film that I, nor anybody else it turned out, had really heard all that much about and had chosen purely based on the central premise (which, admittedly, doesn't sound all that exciting). I admit I only chose it for a late evening mid-week slot because I love the art of sound editing - you'll find me at Oscar parties explaining what the difference between "sound effects editing" and "sound mixing" are like a total dweeb - and figured any film that put that process front and centre should be worth a look in. Even if I'm not a fan of Toby Jones.
Berberian Sound Studio is a very peculiar picture, and I sat there for a good chunk of its run time not really knowing what on Earth the whole point was. It was interesting, definitely, but I was waiting for something to happen. I mean, film generally dictates that stuff kinda has to happen. Even if at a film festival the potential is much lower. Still, waited patiently I did and while I was certainly getting a kick out of all the creepy, atmospheric ways that the director was able to utilise the art of sound editing I was eager for something, you know? By the time Strickland's film played out its magic dance around the maypole of looniness in its final act, I was in quiet awe. Not only was the film's final act something that the film needed in order to make its lasting impression, but it was something I personally needed.
I'd longed for a film all festival long that would give me the unnerving sense of the unknown. None of the "Night Shift" titles (essentially those devoted to genre elements, of which Berberian feels like a natural fit, alas...) really did that for me this year. At least none of the ones I saw. My friends and I basically all exited the cinema with a state of perplexed wonder. The rabbit hole of madness that the characters appear to collapse into throughout the second half are so fascinating to watch play out that I ended up having a hoot of a time. You'll never look at British nature documentaries the same! Also, it must be said, it was so great to experience a film and help turn it into one of the must see films of the festival. It's my understanding that people were promptly trying to make subsequent screenings after hearing about the success of the film from us early birds. Berberian Sound Studio is sure to be one of David Lynch's favourite films of the year!
The movie does have a local distributor and I hope for audiences' sake that it gets a theatrical release (those in Sydney will apparently get the chance to see it at the Sydney Underground Film Festival) because - for rather obvious reasons - it is a film that utilises sound design in such a manner that demands a cinema viewing setting. From the crunching of a watermelon with an axe, to the bloody-curling scream of an Italian dubbing actress, Berberian Sound Studio is a film to be enveloped by. It lives and dies on its sound design, and it passes with flying colours. The film itself will prove a confounding wonder for many and a boring mess for others, but its evocation of a very specific time and place had me enraptured. Loved it.
It was completely without coincidence then that some days after the festival I chose to sit down and watch a Blu-ray of Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper. The very sort of Italian horror flick that the aforementioned Berberian demonstrates the making-of process of, this is a nasty little flick albeit one whose power has surely been greatly reduced as a result of the very dated style. The heavy style and dubbed sound of films from this era will never not be confronting - at least initially - but I actually think Sound Studio made me appreciate Fulci's film a little bit more than I otherwise may have. Strickland's film is, I suppose, never not be perfect double feature fodder for a movie of this kind where the lips aren't in sync and the squishy, squashy sound effects are so noticeably over-the-top that you can all but see the chunks of leafy vegetables flying out of the screen.
Initially banned in Australia, New York Ripper follows a city entangled in the vice-like grip of a depraved killer. It certainly takes a more tourist-like look at the city than, say, William Lustig's Maniac - rarely does an establishing shot go by that doesn't feature an NYC landmark or sunny postcard shot, although the majority of the film was clearly not filmed on location ("grindhouse tourism" nails Slant - but that lends it a disconcerting atmosphere that works a treat. Where it doesn't succeed is in Fulci's troubling representation of sex and fetishes, which are treated as more or less demonic, deserving of punishment. There's certainly a filthy leery-eyed old man aesthetic to the whole thing that is rarely comfortable to watch. And then there are scenes where nipples are cut in half by razor blades. Yeah, make up whatever meaning you like for that. Various strands strain for relevance and others have genuine tension. It's a strange movie like that.
I guess it makes sense that I should follow up something like Berberian Sound Studio, itself little more than an expertly crafted technical display, with New York Ripper. Fulci's film is hardly scary, but there's still skill to be found to make it an involving experience. If somewhat limited, obviously.
I was at a movie last night, and some time after leaving I checked Twitter. Blessed are my followers who immediately thought of me upon the news that had come out whilst I was in the cinema, that Jamie Bell would be taking a role in the new hardcore sex film by Lars Von Trier, The Nymphomaniac. Of course, all of the tweets I received were of the "you're gonna die!" / "you're gonna love this!" / "you're gonna masturbate!" variety and for that I'm thankful. Let's keep online social media as classy as possible, I say!
Of course, I naturally already knew about this since Jamie and I are betrothed as husband and husband. I have a say in every role he accepts. Well, almost. I don't know how Man on a Ledge snuck by my keen observations, but we've already had words about that. Still, the idea of Jamie in a the new Von Trier film was too much for him to refuse. He obviously didn't himself out there enough with Hallam Foe and needed to reveal more of himself. To reveal the raw, humane side to his personality is obviously what I meant. Obviously.
If you’d asked me pre-fest what film I was definitely not anticipating then I surely would have answered Pablo Larrain’s No. I walked out of the Chilean director’s Post Mortem last year after falling asleep and awaking during a slobbery sex scene that made me admit defeat. I had no desire in returning to that well, especially with No hailed as the third and concluding chapter in Larrain’s Pinochet satire trilogy. Why then did I go and see it after all? Well, put that down to festival fatigue and accidentally going to the wrong cinema! I was supposed to be seeing something else, but I’m almost glad I made the mistake, as I may not have ever discovered No. This is still very much a harsh indictment of Pinochet and his rule, but Larrain has substituted the icy-veined harshness of his earlier films and replaced it with a celebratory, robust, truly cinematic sensibility.
A black and white, rotoscoped, drama from the Czech Republic. Well you certainly haven’t seen this before. This very sombre film from debut filmmaker Tomás Lunák recalls the dazzling visual style of Christian Volckman’s 2006 French action noir, Renaissance, but a plot that appears to move as slowly as molasses proved to be a bit too much to bear for my tired eyes so late in the festival. Knowing so little about Czech history is certainly a hindrance to enjoying this film beyond the purely visual, but Alois Nebel begins so promisingly with an intense border-crossing sequence that it’s hard not to be slightly disappointed that it didn’t live up to the early potential.
An artist’s canvas is his universe. They can do whatever they like and there are no rules. What then happens if the artist decides they no longer care about what they created and leave their work to sit unfinished? This is the initial premise behind Jean-François Laguionie’s sublimely charming animation, Le Tableau. Made in sumptuously styled animation with a kaleidoscope of bright colours, this briskly-paced French production deals with themes of identity and imagination in a way that should entrance younger viewers, while also allowing adults to get enraptured in the gorgeous animation and lively action. Gorgeously animated – 2D, but accentuated with CGI – Le Tableau is a gem.
Total Recall is a Len Wiseman film. That really should be enough to turn any sane cinemagoer off of this remake/reboot/re-adaptation, and from the sounds of things its American release has been met with a resounding flop. Good. Nobody should be giving this man so much money to make what amounts to little more than a Bourne/The Dark Knight inspired take on the mind-bending story of Philip K Dick and the original film by Paul Verhoeven. I have never read the short story that inspired it, but Verhoeven’s film isn’t exactly beyond reproach. Still, it is a hell of a lot better than this dull, rote, and downright flabby sci-fi action bore. Don’t give Len Wiseman the keys to the kingdom, all he’ll do is break in and move your stuff around with no purpose.
Total Recall is the end product of lazy filmmakers working together. So much of what is wrong with this film could have easily been fixed if its director and screenwriters, Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, had just played it a bit smarter. The film opens with one of those soul-crushing bombardments of expositional text that never leads to anything good, and only descends from there. The nitpicker in me wants to ask why these characters let go of their possessions in the zero gravity zone when they’ve been taking that trip for years? Why is the climactic action sequence so reminiscent of Titanic? Why are there no Australian accents in the Australian-set scenes, yet British and American accents appear to have survived? Why go to all the effort of creating this expansive world if you’re not even going to let the editor breath and let us see it before turning around and shifting the action to ugly chasms and sterile portals? We won’t even go into the logic of Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen sending all of his trips, plus himself, plus his henchmen, all on the same craft. That’s just dumb.
There’s little rhyme or reason to any of what happens here, as its mortals recite inane dialogue in breathy, exhausted, monosyllabic bites. Meanwhile many of the changes to the original film (“Original Film” also the LOL-worthy name for the production company that made it) lack purpose. The screenplay pinches many bits from the 1990 production, but is mostly played with dead-eyed seriousness and without any of the comedic glee found in Verhoeven’s movies. Then there are moments like the initial “rekall” and the security scanner scene that fall flat. The only moment Total Recall feels truly alive is a genuinely well-played chase sequence across the rooftops of an Australian slum that recalls (har dee har har) Blade Runner, this film’s most obvious inspiration. Still, when much of the drama is centred on Colin Farrell’s Douglas Quaid and his apparent terrible life and yet he appears to live in an apartment larger than mine with a view of some fabulous art directed metropolis it’s kind of hard to care.
Farrell is certainly trying hard, unlike his track pants (the opening scene is certainly directing one’s gaze far south of Farrell’s furrowed brow), but is held back by a director who is so busy stealing other films’ styles that he never truly carves his own. The casting of permanently open mouthed blank slate Jessica Biel – still never better than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – and the one woman hair care commercial, Kate Beckinsale, certainly doesn’t help matters. “I give good wife”, says the latter without a hint of a wink. Yawn.
It’s always sad to see a film – especially one with as gargantuan of a budget as this one – go off the rails, but they have nobody to blame but themselves. Much like John Carter, Total Recall’s filmmakers just think audiences will flock for the pretty actors and the big visual effects. Sadly, Wiseman is just too bland of a director to cast actors from outside the box or to do anything truly memorable with the premise. This is a glum state of affairs. C
A group of attractive youngsters head to the forest for a weekend getaway in a cabin… Yes, it could be the opening plot line of any number of horror films, not to mention films like this year’s Cabin in the Woods, which satirised the device for all of its clichéd glory. This time, however, it is the beginning of Mine Games, a ludicrous–and occasionally ludicrously entertaining–horror thriller from local director Richard Gray (Summer Coda). Filmed in the same region of America that was home to Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure, this film plays like a long lost sequel to Friday the 13th as an unseen evil stalks the nubile teens in a quasi-labyrinthine möbius strip of revolving ridiculous chills.
This review probably reads more positive that it ought to, but after the vitriol that I heard about the film the night prior I was surprised to myself enjoying it for the most part (despite its obvious flaws). Can I mention that I met Ethan "Voice of a God" Peck at the MIFF closing night after party? We spoke about the Step Up franchise and that is something I will never not find hilarious. He is so freakin' dreamy you guys. He's not going to be starring in To Kill a Mockingbird 2 anytime soon, but who cares when you look and sound like that? Remember when you heard Heath Ledger's voice for the first time? Yeah... *swoon*
I wasn’t sure what I thought when I left my sold out session of Ruby Sparks. I think I was initially taken aback by the fact that it was both written by and stars Zoe Kazan (not to mention co-directed by a woman, Valerie Faris, alongside Jonathan Dayton who both made a big splash several years back with Little Miss Sunshine). What exactly was Kazan trying to say about women? Are they all subconsciously wanting to be manipulated by men? What exactly was Kazan trying to say about men? Do they really only want a woman that they can mould into the perfect being? What exactly was Kazan trying to say about herself? Does she really consider herself the most desirable woman in America, the perfect fantasy that any man would conjure up if forced?
Small Town, USA, has been the setting of so many films centred on the dubious nature of “know thy neighbour” that it’s nice to see one come along that feels fresh, despite still working well within the wheelhouse of contemporary cinema. Director Richard Linklater has blended the mockumentary, the sun-kissed indie, the southern gothic, the Soderbergh farce, and the Jack Black comedy into something wholly fun, quirky, and yet stinging in its darkness. It manages to feel unique and different despite looking unambitious upon initial glance. It’s funny too, which certainly helps, and is benefited immensely by a wonderful cast of big names and unknowns that help make this Linklater’s freshest film in quite some time.
Whether it was a deliberate action on behalf of the MIFF schedule organisers or purely kismet coincidence, but the back-to-back screenings of Marten Persiel’s This Ain’t California and Ice-T’s (yes, Ice-T) Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap proved to be a winning double. The former is documentary following the very literal clash of East meets West from a time in the 1980s where Californian skate culture blossomed under the shadow of the Berlin Wall in East Germany. Meanwhile, the latter is another East meets West documentary, this time as the legendary rap star turned director traverses the East Coast (New York) and West Coast (Los Angeles) rap scenes from their inception in the early 1980s to discover what it takes to write the perfect lyric.
It’s a shame that the people who really need to see Matthew Akers’ transfixing debut documentary, Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, won’t go near it. If the years and years of time spent by newspaper opinion columns bemoaning the “waste” of taxpayer funding for what they deem an artist’s silly folly had been used instead to create something that moves and deeply effects just one person in this world then we’d surely be better off for it. The woman at the centre of The Artist is Present, Serbian born performance artist Marina Abramović, is a fascinating one and this documentary’s final 30 minutes is a testament to the power that her work has over people. As she sat gallantly in Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) for some 736.5 hours, her work took on the stature of legend, so it’s sad to think there are far too many out there who, as one news reporter featured within says, see her as little more than “some Yugoslavian provocateur.”
Maniac does some things very well, but being a remake of William Lustig’s 1980 skeazy horror classic isn’t necessarily one of them. Sure, Franck Khalfoun’s film takes some of the bare bones of Lustig’s down-and-out slasher – the scalpings, the mannequins, the photographer – but repurposes them to a world that models itself more on the 1980s fetishisation from Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive than the claustrophobic universe of the original. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; of course, remakes should try and carve their own identity rather than merely aping the predecessor’s successes, but it is a shift of such tectonic proportions that it put me off balance and was never truly able to recover.
This film is far too slick, calculated, and neatly packaged to have any of the same impact as Maniac 1980 (which, I guess, is what we’ll call it from now on for the purpose of this review). There are many reasons why Maniac 1980 is a classic, but most of all it is because of the downright filthy representation of New York that director Lustig imbued his film with. One of the most true, and sickening, depictions of a dying city ever put on film, New York and its boroughs had never, and certainly hasn’t since, looked quite so oppressive. Maniac 2012 takes a different tact, switching the action (“action”) to Los Angeles and filming the city in a glowing light that is gorgeous in execution, but confounding in reason. Like the aforementioned Drive, from which Maniac 2012 borrows heavily (to put it mildly), as well as Michael Mann’s Collateral, Khalfoun’s film makes a menacing beauty of the city of angels at many times, but you’d be forgiven for finding the horror of its locale less effective. The crystal clear digital cinematography of Maxine Alexandre only further accentuates this.
Among the many differences to the original, this so-called remake shifts the action to a first person POV. It’s as if we’re seeing through the eyes of Frank – a deliberately robotic Elijah Wood – which should make for a more disturbing experience (the mind of a killer and what not), but it instead drains the film of dread and tension. In one scene that recalls the original, set amongst the subway of Los Angeles as Frank chases an attractive woman through the station, there is nothing in the way of heart-pumping suspense. By aligning the viewer with Frank’s field of vision, the girl is rendered more or less inessential to the proceedings, which is a worrying thought. The audience is being put inside Frank’s mind and being forced to experience what he experiences. That isn’t scary. There’s never any moment of relief and elation at a potential victim’s escape because the filmmakers never lets us experience it. It’s virtually impossible to feel what the women Frank stalk and kill feel because no effort is made to represent them.
I don’t necessarily think any of this makes Maniac 2012 a misogynistic film – certainly not as much as, say, VHS - however, the reaction of some of my 11.30pm crowd made me think that they themselves may indeed be misogynist. At least initially, there were whoops and hollers at the gruesome stabbing and scalping of an attractive, scantily clad woman. I worry about their motivations for seeing something like this. Or perhaps its more an indictment on the director who wasn’t able to make the victim anything other than a vacant vessel to be offed, so much so that the especially nasty way she is disposed of is seen as little more than a giggle fest. I certainly don’t think the film is played for laughs, but what does it say about it when it elicits them? I’m not sure, I’m conflicted myself.
There are indeed moments of this movie that frazzled me, but that’s probably inevitable for a film as gory as this. The scalpings are disgusting and brutal, although the hint of CGI blood spray is off-putting. If Maniac 2012 bests the original in any way it’s in the ending, which takes the original’s idea and adds a slice of imagery that’s awfully effective, both thematically and visually. Fans of the original will know it when they see it. The director has some other neat tricks up his sleeve, sure: Using Q Lazzarus’ “Goodbye Horses, immortalised by a dick-tucked Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs; a fabulous Délé Ogundiran as a dreaded, aviator-wearing policewoman (I want a 1980s-set Policewoman movie starring her, please); Wood replicating the poster of the 1980 original in the shiny, reflective surface of a car door, post-scalping. The Drive stylisations are initially very distracting – the opening scene, especially, had my friend and I scribbling the exact same note – but the score (by whom I’m not sure, there is no name listed) is a wonderfully retro throwback that recalls Jay Chattaway’s bustling relic of a musical score from 1980.
Is it interesting that Franck Khalfoun directed P2 all set within one location, and now he’s made Maniac, which is set all within one body? Maybe, but probably not enough to make the exercise a true success. Whereas Maniac 1980 sourced many of its chills from its dead set sense of place and palpable atmosphere of incoming dread, the remake takes a different path. It’s an admirable goal of Khalfoun, as well as his high profile producer Alexandre Aja (who also co-wrote with CA Roseberg and Grégory Levasseur), to take a more European sensibility to the original film, something that was made even more abundantly clear by the humorous (accidental?) inclusion of French subtitles for the first 15 minutes. Much of what you make of Maniac 2012 will depend on whether you think the story is strong enough to work being told in such a radically different fashion. At 100 minutes it is arguable too long – maybe one of the stalks could have been cut, or maybe just tightened up some of the bits between Frank and photographer Anne, rather than including repetitive sky-gazing POV shots and migraine-induced fogginess. It’s an interesting experiment, but it was always going to be hard existing in the shadow of such a great piece of cinema as Maniac 1980 and it’s a shadow it never truly comes to close to stepping out from. C
Dir. Ben Lewin
Aus Rating: N/A
Running Time: 95mins
I suspect it will be easy for cynical audiences to look upon Ben Lewin’s The Sessions as merely a hurdle to get over this upcoming awards season. Yes, it’s about a man with a disability and, yes, it co-stars Helen Hunt, but the mere fact that it got made at all makes it an important film whether you consider it good or not. Given Hollywood’s fussy attitude towards sex (particularly the sex that makes us feel good), it’s strange to see so much talk about The Sessions (nee Six Sessions, nee The Surrogate) in regards to the Academy Awards. That the film is about sex and disabilities and religion, and examines it with maturity and gentle pathos, just makes Lewin’s film that much more of an anomaly worth exploring.
War is hell, duh. Sadly, Billy Bob Thornton's first time behind the camera in some 11 years (Daddy and Them, unreleased on these shores as far as I am aware) isn't able to mustre many more ideas for Jayne Mansfield's Car, a 1969-set southern drama that looks at the effects of three wars on three different generations of one family. Surely attempting to be "sprawling", the impressively cast ensemble try hard to find tender nuances amongst Thornton and Tom Epperson's screenplay, but an unfocused structure that leaves many characters with nothing to do for long stretches (and sometimes, in Frances O'Connor's case, disappearing from the narrative entirely) makes for an ultimately disjointed affair. The title is a doozy, a reference to the piece of pop culture memorabilia that found itself in a touring macabre sideshow of celebrity worship, but is perhaps too evocative and colourful a name for a film that is so concerned with the more tight-knit confines of family.
The developments that bring the Bedford family - John Hurt, Ray Stevenson, and O'Connor - from their home in England all the way to Alabama certainly pique initial interest. As Hurt and the ex-husband of his now deceased wife, played with typical externalised gruff by Robert Duvall, duke out their own decades-old argument, his children and grandchildren all have their own heavy stuff to deal with. Thornton's Skip is deeply wounded (both mentally and physically) from his time in WWII, the same war that has turned Kevin Bacon's Carroll into a peace-loving hippy. The third brother, Robert Patrick's Jimbo, didn't go to any war and yet carries scars all of his own. Bacon has perhaps the most interesting of the film's many characters, having to deal with the shame he puts upon his decorated WWI hero father's image as well as a son who, quite tellingly, thinks enlisting for the Vietnam War would be a "rock and roll" thing to do. What they would all think of soldiers lip syncing to Carly Rae Jespen's "Call Me Maybe" on YouTube is never broached.
Thornton imbues his film with the same rustic, southern gothic sensibility that he gave his debut, Sling Blade, in 1995. Perhaps Jayne Mansfield's Car was his attempt to return to safer territory after the much-noted debacle of All the Pretty Horses in 2000. Sadly, this more expansive tale never reaches any of the lofty heights it is clearly aiming for. It looks lovely, and and an electric twang-heavy score plus references to era-defining moments in time mean there's usually something to be paying attention to, but for a film that appears to be trying to say so much it never really gets above that initial statement of "war is hell".
The fingerprints of a scissor-happy editor are there on screen as well as off. O'Connor's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" reciting step-sister seemingly vanishes for a couple of days with nary a mention of her name to remind audiences of her whereabouts. She's the highlight of the film - "It's like Gone with the Wind!" - and her vanishing act is truly a mystery. Meanwhile, the film's Wikipedia page (which humorously implies Duvall, Bacon and Thornton play the three central brothers) cites Tippi Hedren as the wife who fled Alabama for the UK, and yet she never once appears on screen. I can't imagine the bulk of the tiresome "old man takes LSD, LOL!" segment was more important, but there you go. Even the collage-style poster appears to feature images that didn't make the final product.
War is hell, duh. That's still all I can figure Thornton's film amounts to. Perhaps if he'd focused on one of the story lines over this more mosaic structure he could have truly buried deeper. As it ends - quite bizarrely might I add - it feels like Thornton hasn't used the themes and the setting in any particularly unique way, with little idea of how to maximise the potential of his big moments. It's deep-fried Americana, but all a bit tasteless. C+
What does one make of Carré Blanc, an altogether confounding debut from director Jean-Baptiste Léonetti? Set in a dystopian future, this sort-of-thriller incorporates elements of experimentation, Greek new wave strangeness, Orwellian dictatorship, and even a penchant for distinctive architecture. Léonetti’s film will be a struggle for some purely due to its severe, barren screenplay and reserved performances. Nevertheless, it works a mesmerising, hypnotic trance that I found rather fascinating. Its oddness has a very rhythmic quality to it that works in harmony with the director’s playful attitudes to imagery.
One of the hotly buzzed titles of the festival has been Zal Batmanglij’s directorial debut, the unsettling and finely tuned cult drama, Sound of My Voice. A richly textured example of economical filmmaking that was made on a pittance and written as, I can only assume, a starring vehicle for co-writer Brit Marling. Much like last year’s Another Earth, which Marling also co-wrote, Sound of My Voice is a lo-fi approach to a more mainstream genre. Whereas Earth examined the possibilities of redemption and forgiveness against the backdrop of science fiction, Voice sees its characters debate the very notions of reality and accountability within the confines of a cult conspiracy film.
Translating the original title of Ursula Meier’s film, L’enfant d’en haut, is “The Boy from Above”. A very literal title indeed that recalls recent films like The Dardenne Brothers’ The Kid with a Bike. That Meier’s film has been given the initially rather vague English title is surprising, but will soon make sense for viewers who take in this brittle family drama from Switzerland. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, it comes with a story that is ripe for downtrodden doom and gloom, but ends up impressing with its playfulness and wonderfully devoted performances.
Expectations can be a difficult thing. Before seeing it, the retro horror omnibus V/H/S was amongst my most eagerly anticipated titles of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Off the back of some killer (oh dear, look what I've pun done) American buzz, and some fantastic marketing materials, it seemed like the audience packed 11.30pm slot on Saturday night was the perfect opportunity for some good ol’ fashioned horror fun. How wrong I was as I joined the bleary-eyed crowd outside the cinema at 1.30am post credits, standing around aghast at what we’d just witnessed. Was it altogether Satanic like something out of the film’s own haunted VHS video collection, or was it far more stupid? A little from column a, a little from column b.
A small group of thuggish yokel petty criminals accept a job from an unseen client. They are to break into a house and retrieve a mysterious VHS video tape. What they find, however, isn't quite as simple and they must make their way through the collection of videos to find the right one. Outside of the final product, this is actually quite a good connecting device for the anthology of short films to follow. Nevertheless, right from the get go these scenes are plagued by issues that are only exacerbated by the film's interminable length and irksome mission statement. Considering the directors - name like Ti West and Joe Swangberg - were aware of each other's films since creative names crossover between shorts, it's quite alarming to note that all six seem to offer up the exact same thing and all in just appalling ways. Doofus douchebags acting like pricks around women who are just as easily willing to flash their breasts on camera as they are kill you in your sleep. Women, am I right?
Short film after short film plays out in typically grainy videotape aesthetic with erratic jump cut editing and frustrating periods of nothingness. Consider the opening passages of Cloverfield extended to feature length and you've got a good idea of where V/H/S lays on the scale of 'films with characters I wish I were friends with in real life'. Fairly damn low. The only passages to not feature such openly dickish forms of the male specimen have issues of their own - evil lesbians! skype! - but ultimately the film's failure comes from its completely and utterly catastrophic use of the cinematic medium. There isn't anything in this movie that elicits a reactions other than contempt or disgust. There isn't a single likable character to be found, rendering the horrific events that befall them entirely void. There isn't a single film that doesn't feature multiple fake scares (something jumping from off screen! a character pretending to be killed mere moments before they actually are!) and lazy execution. There is barely a single moment that doesn't feel like it was born out of the mind of a leering screenwriter who has used the V/H/S concept to produce a masturbatory folly that reeks of cynicism. At least The Devil Inside (surely the previous barometer for this sort of cheap shlock) didn't hide behind a veneer of hip, nostalgia tripping smugness.
If the film were just a mere technical exercise then I could have at least found something to admire amidst its sexist boganisms, but the filmmakers can't even seem to get a grip on their own set up. Set in modern times, I find it hard to believe that even the most hardcore snuff viewer would go to all the trouble of converting a recorded Skype video onto ancient VHS. It makes no sense why we can see the desktop and cursor behind the recorded video or why the villain of the piece would even go to the trouble of filming it anyway if they are so intent on keeping things hush hush secretive. Does the dude wearing the camera glasses in "Amateur Night" have them plugged into a video recorder via cables? What about the "nanny cam" guy? How does a camera survive a high impact train collision? How come they dissolve the central premise of the film at the end and have a "video" play seemingly at random. Who is watching it? Who pressed play? V/H/S certainly could have stood to loose a bit off of its two hour run time so I'm not sure why they bothered to include Radio Silence's film-ending "31/10/98" other than they'd spent the cash on the visual effects and felt the need to include it. It's probably the best one, too, but it's still maddening.
That most of the stories have at least one element or image that I can look back on fondly only makes the end product that much more of a bitter disappointment. I enjoyed the representation of the killer in "Tuesday the 17th" (otherwise the worst segment due to its over-abundance of ridiculous exposition and awful handheld camera work), and the initial Lost Highway inspired stalker sequence of Ti West's otherwise offensive "Second Honeymoon". The visual effects of "10/31/98" were impressive and the way they were incorporated into this otherwise grungy look made them all the more so. Er, I also enjoyed Simon Barrett's moustache in "Tape 56". These moments stop it from being a total failure of a movie, although I am surely being incredibly generous by saying so.
It's sad that V/H/S is so completely lost up its own arse. You may not find a bigger cinephile defender of the Paranormal Activity films as I, and I rank The Blair Witch Project as perhaps the scariest films I've ever seen (I'm weak like that, I guess), so it's not a "found footage" gripe. It's just that the film is so chock full of boredom, sexism against both women and men, cliches, and is utterly devoid of scares. And, yes, it's in widescreen and features impressive sound design - something that Paranormal Activity also has, but here it's a distracting signpost of a half-thought out movie that inspires anger for its shortcomings rather than chills for its successes. D-
I seem to preface every blog entry about a movie trailer with me saying "I don't normally discuss movie trailers" before going into a long-winded reasoning as to why. Still, this ain't no ordinary trailer. You see, it's the trailer for The Paperboy, Lee Daniels' supposedly whackadoo southern gothic tale starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack and the one and only Nicole Kidman. The trailer, as it is, isn't exactly a feat of execution, but it's not Nicole Kidman playing a southern floozy and Zac Efron dancing in his rain-soaked tighty-whities so I feel obligated to show it to you.
It looks like madness and I can't wait to see it. I'm not sure who has The Paperboy for local distribution, but whoever it is I hope they get to releasing it pretty darn soon! Australia occasionally gets alternate poster designs, too, so maybe they can just put Efron and Kidman on there with the tagline "yeah, she pees on him!" and be done with it. I mean, hello, who wouldn't want to see that movie? Hell, maybe they could make one of those newfangled motion posters of Zac and Nicole dancing in the rain on an endless loop. It'd certainly pique my interest.
I'm sure JA at My New Plaid Pants won't mind me borrowing his gif of Zac Efron bring "his milkshake to the yard" for all of you out there. It's a gift that really ought to just keep on giving!
You guys, David Cronenberg has something to say and he’s going to tell us again and again and again! I haven’t read Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name that Cronenerg has adapted, but the film’s structure and dialogue come off as little more than prose that has been awkwardly repurposed for the screen so I feel like I have. Disjointed and largely impenetrable, Cosmopolis will prove a difficult film to love and an easy one to loathe. Sadly, in spite of Cronenberg’s desire to repeatedly tell us about His Opinion, Cosmopolis ends up saying very little. There’s nothing particularly new here, which is especially disappointing coming from Cronenberg, who made such brilliantly allegorical cinema as Videodrome and Naked Lunch. It's all just so literal. Yikes.
For whatever reason, Cronenberg has gotten his actors to recite their already very disconnected dialogue in a stilted with little embodiment. Probably very much The Point Of The Movie, but it makes for awkward viewing. Pattinson is not bad, nor particularly good, but he does lend the character a smug exterior that at least adds some shade to the proceedings. Jay Baruchel and Paul Giamatti serve their roles admirably, but aren’t given much to work with. Sarah Gadon, meanwhile, is a chore to sit through as Parker’s rather vanilla-toned wife, but Mathieu Amalric manages to inject some life and energy into his brief moment. By the end I had long since tuned out so maybe they all mean something, but it’s all just so lacking in vitality.
Technically it is hard to fault. Seamless integration of visual effects into the pristine limousine set that is the focus of most of the film, and the sleek business suit costume design of Denise Cronenberg are much appreciated. I can’t say the same for the original rap tune written by DeLillo and rapper K’Naan, which is an embarrassment. Cosmopolis unfortunately amounts to little with Cronenberg is so intent of hammering his message so deeply into the viewer’s head that he cracks skull. There is no subversive spin on the material and proves as superficially empty as the limousine that acts as a symbol of extravagant one percenters. If Magic Mike looked at the physical toll the GFC has played on the body of Channing Tatum's inspiring stripper, then Cosmopolis is the opposite end of the spectrum. A frustratingly dull series of discussions about greed, corruption and capitalism from the eyes of an uber-rich young business man. C
The biggest disappointment of all was the complete and utter waste of opportunity with how Cronenberg represented New York City. For all we know it could have been set in any city... Miami, perhaps? Not gonna lie, I kinda wished Pattinson's limo was going to find itself in the middle of one of those ridiculous flash mobs from Scott Speer's Step Up: Miami Heat (nee Step Up Revolution for American readers). It could be like one of those weird television cross over's where audiences are all "Why are the characters from Bones in this episode of Private Practice?" It certainly would have given Cronenberg's film some snap to it to have Pattinson peek out his windows to see the nubile, fleshy dancers of the fourth Step Up movie gyrating about on car hoods. And, hey, Step Up Miami Heat does in fact try and weasel some weak-as-piss social commentary into its own proceedings. Ya know, as much as this basically-but-i-guess-not remake of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo can muster in between feisty choreographed dance routines and limp romance. Its anarchic move busters sure have the rat-hoisting rioters of Cosmopolis beat.
Still, there's something to be said about the good time that I have with these films. I genuinely believe that Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D are good movies with lively ways of discussing the way art brings people together and how it has the power to change people's lives. This fourth entry essentially gives up on even attempting any connection to the prior three films outside of a late entry cameo that does nothing but call attention to the fact that this is a Step Up movie in name only. It could have simply been titled Miami Heat and be done with, but brand counts for a lot on the global market these days and without Channing Tatum willing to pop up for a third time there weren't many ways it could go with its franchise characters.
The dancing is indeed lively, although its use of 3D is less obvious than its predecessor, and the actors are all incredible good looking, if not necessarily in correlation with their acting skills. Newcomer leading man and former MMA fighter, Ryan Guzman, quite literally has his shirt off or at least unbuttoned for a good two thirds of the movie and, let's face it, it was a nice touch. Of more concern was Kathryn McCormick's sand-based opening routine. I can only imagine what doing the splits on a beach could result in and it ain't pretty. Elsewhere there's an actress named Cleopatra and Mia Micheals from So You Think You Can Dance looking horrifically bored/botoxed.
Of course, nobody goes to these movies for the actors, and by now the franchise has descended into little more than wildly hysterical lulz in between the catchy dance numbers. There's little to no logic at all, ridiculous dialogue gets spouted with utmost sincerity - "He's the Mark Zuckerberg of The Mob!" - and once again the extras get overly carried away with their hip-hop flavoured expressions. Yo yo yo! It's all terrifically absurd and no more absurd does it get than the art gallery sequence in which covert, camouflaged dancers take over an opening night seemingly without raising the curiosity of the gallery director. Did she not notice there were statues in her exhibit that aren't actually meant to be there? Naturally it doesn't make a lick of sense, but at least it gives off the faint scent of trying to be a half-decent movie unlike Streetdance 2, which was just embarrassing for all involved (still funny though). I had a hoot of a time and I don't care who knows it! Z+
And, ya know, just 'cause...
Yeah, I'll take him over Robert Pattinson.
Can we have more of these movies though? How about each subsequent movie relocates the drama ("drama") to a new city, and a new impoverished neighbourhood that needs saving from the grasp of greedy developers. We could have Step Up: San FranDisco!, Step Up: Bustin' Boston, and Step Up: Salt Lake Shivers about a new dance move called "the shiver". Considering what gets called dancing in this franchise I'm sure they'd have no trouble convincing people that it's a real thing. Long live the teen dance flick!!!