Thursday, November 29, 2012

Review: Fun Size

Fun Size
Dir. Josh Schwartz
Country: USA
Running Time: 90mins
Aus Rating: PG

There’s little that makes sense in the new Nickelodeon production beyond the name. A modern day revamp (of sorts) of the 1980s teen classic Adventures in Babysitting meets The Hangover for tweens, the feature debut of television writer/producer Josh Schwartz (The OC, Hart of Dixie) is a mess of a movie. Despite being set on Halloween, the scariest thing here is how many barrels Max Werner’s screenplay manages to scrape the bottom of. Even before the opening credits, Fun Size has descended into a hilariously bad caricature of what a teen film should be. Reminiscent of childish adventure flick Sleepover (Remember that? Lucky you!), Fun Size is an appalling, eye-opening experience that lacks all the zest and wit of its teen flick forefathers.

Victoria Justice stars as Wren – none of those words I just typed make sense to me, but maybe they do to the target audience? – a typical high schoolgirl on the verge of going to college. Her single mother (Chelsea Handler), has shacked up with an abs-flashing toyboy (Josh Pence – you won’t be looking at anything other than his muscle tone) and leaves Wren in charge of babysitting her little brother, Albert (Jackson Nicoll), on Halloween. Naturally everything that could possibly go wrong does. Once Albert goes missing, Wren’s best friend April (Jane Levy, Shameless) insists on going to a cool kid’s party, she discovers she has a crush on geeky Roosevelt (Thomas Mann, Project X), and gets tangled up in a war between a love-struck cashier (Thomas Middleditch) and his rival (Johnny Knoxville).

There’s plenty more, too, but it’s far too complicated to go into. Being a low rent redo of a film as excellent as Adventures in Babysitting would be forgivable if Schwartz didn’t inject his film with so much on-the-nose toilet humour, onerous slapstick, and burdensome subplots that do nothing but extend the runtime to feature length. Anything involving the ghoulish Chelsea Handler – if she walked up to you on Halloween night you’d scream and swear she was wearing a mask of human skin – is particularly unnecessary as she attends the house party of a fart-friendly acquaintance who lives with his parents (they discuss mammograms when she takes a time out from the beer chugging twentysomethings).

Fun Size doesn’t even attempt to engage with its target teen audience in any way that isn’t superficial. Wren and her friends are apparently unpopular nerds, but they’re also super attractive and endure nothing that anybody who’s been to high school will find particularly hellish. As doe-eyed teen love goes, the central romance between Justice and Mann is weak stuff, but at least the actors look like they’d still be asked for ID rather than being portrayed by borderline 30-year-olds. When age appropriate casting is the best one can say about a film, you know you’re in trouble. And to think, I made it this far without mentioning the giant humping chicken, the hippie Democrat lesbians, or the rap sequence that evokes cult essential Teen Witch. So wrong, so very, very wrong. D

Or, in simpler terms:




Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Review: All the Way Through Evening

All the Way Through Evening
Dir. Rohan Spong
Country: USA / Australia
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 70mins

There’s a scene in the charming, if somewhat overly polite, Australian drama The Sum of Us (1994) where the homophobic parents of a closeted gay man watch the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from the comfort of their plush sofas in suburbia. To their abject horror they see their son gyrating on a platform in barely any clothing amongst a sea of body oil, glitter, and high camp. The film may have primarily been about the father-son relationship between Jack Thompson and Russell Crowe, but that scene – especially in retrospect – plays like a perfect analogy for the very sudden way that gay culture was thrust upon the public by the Australian film industry in the early-to-mid 1990s. Two years earlier and Baz Luhrmann was high-kicking a renaissance in Australian cinema into overdrive with his flamboyant Strictly Ballroom, while the same year as The Sum of Us also brought with it the bus full of drag queens of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the return of ABBA-mania with Muriel’s Wedding.

For a moment it appeared as if this country’s boutique film industry was about to push gay cinema well and truly into the mainstream, picking up the lead of the American New Queer Cinema movement as well as the more sexually open elements of European filmmaking that trickled into local arthouses and onto video shelves. Like some grand ol’ coming out party on celluloid, these films were all being released on local and international screens – Priscilla even won an Academy Award! – at a time when the AIDS crisis of the 1980s was disappearing from the news, and the image of the fun-loving homosexual with wit and sass to spare plus ace dance moves to boot was de rigueur. As a gay Australian cinephile it’s hard not to bemoan the lack of such open filmmaking since – oh sure, gay characters are frequently seen on our screens in the background, but the culture has rarely been examined in such mainstream, accessible ways since, instead left to such hard-edged films as Head On (1998), Walking on Water (2002), and the recent Dead Europe (2012).

It’s no surprise then to discover that Melburnian director Rohan Spong has had to travel to America to make his documentaries on gay life. Before now Spong’s most notable title was T is For Teacher, a look at four transgendered teachers in American high schools, but with All the Way Through Evening, however, Spong has crafted a superbly delicate and altogether moving document of one woman’s crusade to allow the victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic to continue living. If not in body and soul, then through their work. An American production, but with some assistance from the Victorian AIDS Council and the Gay Men’s Health Centre, this “musical documentary”, as the credits call it, certainly deserves to be held in the same high regard as recent festival successes and award winners We Were Here (2011) and How to Survive a Plague (2012) for the impactful way it examines the HIV/AIDS crisis.

There is remarkably little to All the Way Through Evening and yet it feels as if it says so much. At a brisk 70 minutes, there isn’t far enough time to get into the back story of Mimi Stern-Wolfe and her “subjects”, but what Spong has assembles is still a loving ode to somebody who has tried to make a difference the best way she knows how. Mimi’s annual concert featuring the compositions of late acquaintances who died (predominantly in the ‘80s and ‘90s in the arts hub of the Lower East Side, Manhattan) sounds like a blessed event and ripe for a documentary telling. It’s amazing how seemingly every year a new documentary comes along telling a new angle to one of the worst pandemics of recent times. This film proves there is always something new to be said, and a new way to say it. That the music featured within this one is frequently soaring, poetic, and beautiful certainly helps.

Featuring the works of four predominant composers, none of which anybody this side of 9th Street, New York City, will have heard of, their songs and their music cut through the proceedings like glass. The stories of Kevin Oldham (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 33), Robert Chesley (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 50), Robert Savage (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 44), and Chris DeBlasio (died of AIDS in 1993, aged 34) will certainly leave audiences in a contemplative place, and that’s probably the perfect end result for this documentary. Releasing in local cinemas to coincide with World AIDS Day on 1 December, All the Way Through Evening is a perfect catalyst for remembrance. With this film now in existence the work of Stern-Wolfe will now always be imprinted in a way to be remembered. She admits to slowing down and who can blame her. In the twilight that her friends never got the chance to live, this woman has done more than enough to make her legacy as memorable as those of the men she has championed for the last two decades. All the Way Through Evening is a fitting tribute to her and a moving viewing experience. B+

Monday, November 26, 2012

Scream to Scream, Scene by Scene: SCENE 12 of Scream 3 (0:36:54-0:47:26)

In this project I attempt to review the entire Scream trilogy scene by scene in chronological order. Heavy spoilers and gore throughout!

SCENE 12 of Scream 3
Length: 10mins 32secs
Primary Characters: Dewey Riley, Gale Weathers, Jennifer Jolie, Steven Stone, Angelina Tyler, Tom Prinze, and Ghostface
Pop Culture References:
  • None so overtly, but I'm sure there are plenty!

Weird double feature idea: Peter Deming Lensed Hollywood Flicks from the Early 2000s! There's Scream 3 and there's also Mulholland Drive. The nighttime shots of Los Angeles certainly look the same.

"Is this a wrap party of this a wrap party? Scene 34, Maureen's murder flashback."
"I never liked that scene."
"That's because you weren't in it."

Not for nothing, a lesser franchise would have done a scene like that by now, and thank gawd they never did. Obviously they couldn't have given the reveal of the climax being facts about Maureen death, but they still could have done one at some point. I shudder to think. I do like that the next joke is about "the Prescott house flashback", as if the entirely of Stab 4 is just made up of Sidney returning to Woodsboro and having flashback after flashback.

I think we all remember where we were when we first caught a glimpse of Matt Keeslar, don't we? Mine was Waiting for Guffman and boy that was a sight! He had a great run, actually, with Guffman, Urbania, and The Last Days of Disco. Sadly, I think he expected Scream 3 to be a breakout role for him. A look at his IMDb profile shows a lot of television one. One suspects many of them are pilots that never got picked up. Sad. He's such a good looking man. Such a good looking man.

Some time ago when I sat my friend Suze down to watch all three Scream films (so, "some time ago" was before Scream 4 came out at least) because she'd never seen any of them, and by the third film came around we just spent most of the time mocking the clothes because MY GAWD WHAT WAS GOING ON IN THAT WARDROBE DEPARTMENT. It's actually very amusing on Jennifer Jolie because her character so flamboyant and over the time that you can totally see her wearing clothes like that, even if they are horrendous most of the time (She'd be on Go Fug Yourself daily). Gale, though?


I seem to remember when this scene happened we both burst into tears of laughter. Look at her! Consider for a moment what she is wearing and I dare you not to laugh. I mean, despite the fact that they're just heinously ugly to look at, are those red leather pants not the most inappropriate attire one could wear when there's a killer on the loose? And that bag. Oh my lordy, that bag! As if her hair wasn't bad enough...

I know Scream 3 is about Hollywood, but I'm surprised they put in so much smoking. I have nothing to say about it per se other than I think it's curious and somewhat uncomfortable.

I have nothing to say about these shots either. Except maybe "has Parker Posey ever played a mid-century vampire?"

Scream to Scream, Scene by Scene: SCENE 11 of Scream 3 (0:35:32-0:36:53)

In this project I attempt to review the entire Scream trilogy scene by scene in chronological order. Heavy spoilers and gore throughout!

SCENE 11 of Scream 3
Length: 1mins 21secs
Primary Characters: Sidney Prescott, Ghostface (voice),
Pop Culture References:
  • When a Stranger Calls
Okay, look, let's just get this out of the way right now so we can swiftly move on. Yes, it has been a very long time since I last did an entry in this series, and yes, I got all of your emails and comments asking me to continue. What took me so long? Basically, I'm a lazy git. If they'd just go ahead and announce that maybe-probably-not-sorta-well-who-knows Scream 5, or if information started to leak about that upcoming television series then my inspiration would have been sparked all over again (plus, let's face it, Scream 3 isn't exactly the best of the trilogy!), alas... anyway, here we are. I hope to be able to commence the series at regular intervals, but don't hold me to anything.

Remember in Scream 4 when they just decided Neil Prescott was dead?

The Scream movies are good for a lot of things, but one of the lesser mentioned ones is the watch the development of telephone technology. The first film is predominantly landline based, so much so that a character with a "cellular telephone" is viewed upon with instant suspicion. The second film sees mobiles featured far more predominantly, while the third seems them all but taken over. Scream 4, of course, features everyone using smartphones and bluetooth.

Oh, how very Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls. "The call is coming from inside the house", and all that jazz. Let's just be thankful that Maureen Prescott didn't return from the bloody grave like the last time we visited Sidney's house in the hills.

Oh. That was a brief return, wasn't it? Still, I like that it mirrors the bait and switch nature of scene 10 from Scream at the same moment of the film. But that's just preparation for all the toxic, explosive gas we're about to sniff in the next scene. I promise it won't take months until I do it!

Intro, Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10, Scene 11, Scene 12, Scene 13, Scene 14, Scene 15, Scene 16, Scene 17, Scene 18, Scene 19, Scene 20, Scene 21, Scene 22, Scene 23, Scene 24, Scene 25, Scene 26, Scene 27, Scene 28, Scene 29, Scene 30, Scene 31 Scene 32, Scene 33, End Credits

Scream 2
Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10, Scene 11, Scene 12, Scene 13, Scene 14. Scene 15, Scene 16, Scene 17, Scene 18, Scene 19, Scene 20, Scene 21, Scene 22, Scene 23, Scene 24, Scene 25, Scene 26, Scene 27, Scene 28, Scene 29, Scene 30, End Credits

Scream 3
Scene 1, Scene 2, Scene 3, Scene 4, Scene 5, Scene 6, Scene 7, Scene 8, Scene 9, Scene 10

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel
Dir. Lisa Immordino Vreeland
Country: USA
Aus Rating: G
Running Time: 86mins

Thanks to the success of television competition program Project Runway, filmmakers saw an unfulfilled niche and fashion is now big business on the big screen. Whether fictional (The Devil Wears Prada) or documentary (The September Issue, Bill Cunningham New York), fashion and the people who design/sell/market it are being followed by cameras more than ever before. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel reaches into the archives and out emerges this wonderfully entertaining documentary about the famed Harper’s Bazaar columnist and Vogue fashion editor during the fashionably revolutionary “Youthquake” movement. Using videotape, audio interviews, archival footage, and newly-filmed interviews with the late Diana (pronounced “Dee-ah-na”) Vreeland’s famous associates, Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s doco is vibrant and bursting with information on Vreeland whose years in the industry catapulted her to celebrity status amongst the fashion forward and twisted the industry into an artform like none others.

With her voice deep, husky voice, Vreeland sounds not too far from being a relative of Bea Arthur or Lauren Bacall. The latter of which, as a matter of fact, Vreeland discovered in the 1940s! Directed by her granddaughter-in-law, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is blessed with some truly fabulous video and audio footage. The outspoken Vreeland was steadfast in her opinions and didn’t tolerate people around her who weren’t up to task. Her demanding attitude surely makes for some great storytelling and anecdotes, and thanks to some snappy editing by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt and Frédéric Tcheng, the film makes for a more worthwhile cinematic outing than some other recent documentary efforts.

Knowing little about her before viewing this brief 86-minute film, other than her famous magazine connections of course, meant there was plenty to discover. The story of this unconventional and entirely fascinating woman makes for a fun, documentary, if one that only truly examines the woman from her own lofty perspective. Only occasionally detouring into the darker side of her success – namely her subsequent lack of motherly affection to her two sons – the director never threatens to truly question the methods or the ideals of the relative she never knew.

Perhaps the most interesting chapter was the final one before her death in 1989. Having found her extravagant spending get her into one final batch of hot water at Vogue, she was promptly fired and, before too long, took up a role at the grand Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Bringing her knowledge of both historical and contemporary fashion to even larger audiences than those perusing the magazine stands, she helped usher in a new age of fashionably hip museum exhibits that examined fashion and pop culture in a way comparable to a Monet or Pollack. She let clothes be the art, and in doing so helped make way for the modern age of design that saw designers and models become celebrities, and the clothes instantly iconic. She had a captivating presence that is well served by this film, a film that many devotees of fashion will be richer for watching. B / B+

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Review: Skyfall

Dir. Sam Mendes
Country: UK/USA
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 143mins

Skyfall is the latest film in the 50-year-old James Bond franchise. As somebody who’s never fallen on any particular side of the fence regarding the 23-film strong franchise – Bond films are rarely terrible, and yet rarely spectacular – I was very much aware of the reputation that Skyfall had amassed amongst hyperventilating internet users. It’s got the big box-office bucks and an endless stream of “Best Bond Yet!” acclaim to back it up, but in the end Skyfall amounts to little more than a fairly standard entry in a series of films that has only recently been allowed to sit at the big boy’s table.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

31 Horrors (sorta): The Virgin Spring (#25)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Okay, I know what you're thinking: "But it's not a horror movie!" True, more or less, it isn't a traditional horror movie. What it is, however, is perhaps one of the grandfathers of the modern day horror movies and, for that, we count it. Ingmar Bergman's 1960 drama set in a medieval Sweden at the crossroads of paganism and Christianity was nominated for the Palme d'Or, won the Academy Award for foreign language film (and was also a fantastic surprise nominee for Marik Vos-Lundh's costume design), and is hailed as a classic. And yet most curiously, The Virgin Spring is perhaps most known for its place in trivia land as the film that inspired Wes Craven's brutal 1972 horror debut The Last House on the Left. While Bergman's film is a much different creature with only the sketchiest of similarities - daughter murdered to savages in the woods who then by chance seek refuge with the girl's parents - the two films, I found, actually assisted one another.

Bergman is a director that I always underestimate despite my better judgement. I've seen a half-decent amount of his films (for what it's worth, my favourite: Persona or Wild Strawberries), but despite liking all but one or two of his films that I have seen, I am routinely surprised at how good I find his work. I am always especially taken by the way he makes his films look so genuine, as if they he trudged his camera back in time. Take The Virgin Spring for instance, it's set in medieval times and from the ring of mud at the hem of a draped dress, to the haphazardly arranged barnyard strewn with matted hay, I can't help but get caught up in the authenticity with which they're presented.

The debt that many modern day horror films owe Bergman and The Virgin Spring is, I think, not to be ignored. Like the Grimm fairy tales that the setting evokes (albeit a bit north), the surprising darkness of this 1960 film is remarkably potent. It doesn't surprise me to read that some cinemas banned it due to the rape sequence, but that's obviously nothing compared to the reception of Craven's The Last House on the Left. That film is not nearly as good as Bergman's, but it perhaps made an impact on many, many more films in a very obvious way. Still, watching The Virgin Spring through the prism of Craven's film makes for an entirely fascinating experience. One can only imagine what Bergman thought of when (and if) he saw The Last House on the Left, but I can only suspect that the film's themes of violence begetting violence made him smile when he saw what his film created a little over a decade later.

Scoot's Roving in the Outback

I just love saying and/or typing "Scoot McNairy", don't you?



As if I needed any more of a reason to be excited for the new David Michôd film, The Rover, he's gone and cast one of my current favourite actors. Scoot McNairy - who, by the way, has had an incredible 2012 with Killing Them Softly and Argo being my top two films of the year so far! - has joined a cast that already includes Guy Pearce and (yes) Robert Pattinson. McNairy, who I first noticed in Monsters and In Search of a Midnight Kiss has proven me wrong by becoming a rather in demand actor. I figured his wiry frame, somewhat goofy looks, and a bonkers name would render him a fairly low profile, but thankfully things have turned out for the better. Alongside the aforementioned Oscar contender and the Cannes-played mobster flick with Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy has new films by Gus Van Sant and Steve McQueen set for release in 2013, as well as another airforce thriller, Non-Stop, with Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore. Sure, why not, yeah?

Curiously, Michôd's debut - the Oscar-nominated Animal Kingdom - starred Ben Mendelsohn with whom McNairy shared many a scene with in Killing Them Softly. Also curiously, that film was directed by another Australian, Andrew Dominik. No word on whether Mendelson or any of his Kingdom brothers will be returning to Australia to film Michôd's somewhat futuristic existential western given the international success that that film has lent the cast you may think they'd be willing to pay him back. Maybe they're all too busy?

Now, let's look at some pictures of the man in question, shall we? There's even one with him and a cute puppy!

And just because he was so freakin' adorable in In Search of a Midnight Kiss...

I tell ya, Tumblr is really good in this situation! It's also a great way of discovering that no matter the niche, there are others who want to make gifs about it. Still, I saw him first. I mean, I know his wife technically saw him first, but for the sake of an argument...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Composer's Ballot

Two years ago I coined 2010 the year of the music score due to its over abundance of film scores that were brilliant, unique, original, and memorable. Just thinking back on them makes me happy and reminiscing on the music for The Social Network, Monsters, How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist, Black Swan, Inception, and TRON: Legacy is a startling reminder of how music is most definitely one craft of filmmaking that continues to go from strength to bold new strength.

So far 2012 already has its fair share of keepers. From the sublime, almost angry, strings of Rachel Portman and Jonny Greenwood on Bel Ami and The Master respectively, to the rapturously inspiring Arcade Fire-esque jangliness of Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer's work on Beasts of the Southern Wild, to the abrasive romanticism of Max Richter's music to Lore (my personal favourite of the year), and the cutesy marching percussions of Alexandre Desplat's work on Moonrise Kingdom, there's been enough to cherish. And, hey, I haven't even mentioned Brave, The Raid, The Innkeepers, John Carter, Frankenweenie and so on.

"Theme from Bel Ami" (Rachel Portman, Bel Ami) | "The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Suite, Parts 1-7" (Alexandre Desplat, Moonrise Kingdom

Not brought on by nothing, I was thinking about film scores as I read this Variety piece on what composers have deemed the greatest music scores of all time. While the article doesn't seem to mention any voters on the calibre of those on the list (a lot of TV composers, and names like Rolfe Kent and Cliff Eidelman, although Cliff Martinez and Carter Burwell are good for quotes), it's still a worthwhile look. That Ennio Morricone topped the list isn't particularly surprising given the reverence with which he has commanded amongst cinephiles and filmmakers alike, I was a bit disappointed that his work on Days of Heaven wasn't mentioned as a high vote getter. I'd be interested to see the entire list, although perhaps 22 citations for John Williams is excessive so perhaps the voters weren't stretching particularly far into the recesses of their minds for these.

Nevertheless, it did get me thinking about my favourite scores of all time and, to limit it to ten, I think my selections look pretty good. There's an obvious crossover in the form of Bernard Herrmann's iconic music to Psycho, although I prefer Ennio Morricone's work on Days of Heaven, my personal pick for favourite film score of all time (at least of those that I have had the fortune to hear). The rest, however, is all a bit different. As evidenced below I tend to have a fondness for synethsised scores as well as scores that are less old-fashioned in their bombastic instrumentation. As much as I love scores like that, I'm always more likely to respond to something a bit different or, lacking that, something with a twist on the familiar.

"Harvest" (Ennio Morricone, Days of Heaven) | "She's Leaving the Bank" (Ry Cooder, Paris, Texas)

"Prologue" (Alexandre Desplat, Birth) | "Flowers of Firenze" (Wojciech Kilar, The Portrait of a Lady)

"Psycho Suite" (Psycho, Bernard Herrmann) | "Main Titles" (Taxi Driver, Bernard Herrmann)

"Body Double" (Pino Donaggio, Body Double) | "The Voice of Love" (Angelo Badalamenti, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me)

"Less Than Zero Suite" (Thomas Newman, Less Than Zero) | "Love Theme" (Vangelis, Blade Runner)

"Halloween Theme" (John Carpenter, Halloween

In the grand scheme of things, many of the above selections are fairly typical. You've got your Morricone and your Herrman; iconic American and iconic '80s space-scape soundtracks. And while everyone can recognise Desplat's genius on Birth, I never hear the work of Polish composter Wojciech Kilar on The Portrait of a Lady praised, and that's a damn shame. So beautiful. Likewise, Thomas Newman's work for The Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty are frequently praised, but I personally prefer his sterling work on Road to Perdition as well (most of all) this 1987 job on the Bret Easton Ellis adaptation, Less Than Zero. The film is botched, but the music is fabulous. That it's never been released on compact disc or even in later years (as far as I'm aware) on digital download is a travesty. Bootleg editions are all over the internet and they make for some really perfect writing music if you're into that sort of thing.

Do you dear readers have any listening suggestions?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

31 Horrors: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (#24)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

Curiously unreleased on DVD (not even in America, let alone Australia), I didn't feel quite so guilty acquiring this 1976 small town slasher through a few dubious means. There's a decent quality version currently airing on TCM in the states, but the copy I watched was a pretty shoddy VHS rip that, if little else, added to the atmosphere of watching an old horror title that came to exist in the age of video cassettes. I watched Charles B Pierce's film on Halloween (after Vampyr and before Hardware) so I was very much set for it to blow me away, and given it is one of the more obscure (yet amazing) references in Kevin Williamson's screenplay for Scream - "It's like The Town that Dreaded Sundown!" - I was really hoping for it to blow me away, too.

"It's about a killer in Texas, huh?" - Deputy Dewey, Scream

And whenever the movie was directly following the killer on screen The Town that Dreaded Sundown was a fabulously freaky experience - and the VHS transfer made the deep midnight blues and blacks that permeate these sequences feel appropriately grubby ala The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The stalk-and-kill scenes featuring the baghead killer who wields a shotgun and, in one particularly odd yet scary scene, a trombone are really well done and reminded me of David Fincher's Zodiac in the way they happen to matter of factly and straightforward. Another film it reminded me of was Maniac, but I think any film I watch from now that features a shotgun blast through a car windscreen is going to remind me of that fantastic film.

Sadly, the killer - known as "The Phantom", and based on a real unsolved case in Texarkana, Texas - isn't really the focus of the majority of the film, but rather the police investigation into his case. I say "sadly" because these passages of the film, centered around Ben Johnson's detective character, are like the dopey cop sequences of Last House on the Left stretched out to feature length. Much like Wes Craven was somehow able to juxtapose the absolute horror of the action with bumbling idiocy of those two police characters, whenever the Sundown killer isn't on screen it succumbs to tedium. It's all so incredibly uninteresting and silly and goofy and I don't understand how these scenes fit into the same film that the killer himself was a part of. There are far too many banjos and cross-dressing coppers getting felt up by overweight detectives. It amuses me to find (after having written most of this) that Jason at My New Plaid Pants had the exact same opinion as me. If Jason agrees then I know I'm on the right page and not just watching a movie in the wrong mood.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown: B+; All that other crap: D+. Let's give it a median C+, shall we?

Jack Skellington, the Golden Globes and the Jewish Film Festival, Together at Last

Just a quick heads up that two pieces I've written have gone up elsewhere on the internetosphere. Firstly, over at Nathaniel Rogers' The Film Experience I looked at the the Oscar-nominated visual effects of Henry Selick's The Nightmare Before Christmas (or is it Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, I've never been able to figure that out!) in the lead up to Halloween. Just today, however, I had a bit of fun poking around in the Musical/Comedy categories of the HFPA's Golden Globe Awards to list the top ten musical snubs. So many strange statistics, specifically revolving around Bob Fosse's All That Jazz the Muppets. Oh yes, there Will be Xanadu.

Meanwhile, over at Trespass Magazine, I was able to get a sneak peak at some of the titles currently on offer at the 22nd Jewish International Film Festival of Australia. I particularly recommend Yossi, the sequel to the lovely Yossi and Jagger from ten years prior. I also spoke about Yossi (and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf!) on last saturday's edition of The Saturday May on JOY 94.9, but sadly the podcast isn't up yet.

Local readers can also occasionally find my stuff in The Big Issue. Last edition I reviewed You Will Be My Son with a four star review so I'd urge y'all to go see it if you can. The current edition sees me reviewing The Sessions, and next issue is Pitch Perfect. And, of course, you can still obviously follow my ramblings, Golden Girls quotes, and angry ventings about my disdain for the public over on Twitter so don't forget to follow if you haven't already.

This round up was brought you by my intense need to see Les Miserables and Anna Karenina. Hurry up, already!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Night in Laramie

I don't go to the theatre enough (due to money constraints, mostly), so when I do go I feel I have to write something about it. Of course, a lot has inevitably already been written about a show by the time I get to it (hell, by the time it gets to Australia!), but the world has so many identical responses to everyone else, why not a theatre show? Sadly the Mockingbird Theatre production of Moises Kaufman's The Laramie Project has finished its Melbourne season at Chapel Off Chapel, but my experience seeing it this past Saturday was so nice that I just had to blog something about it.

To be honest, I'm surprised I haven't caught a production of this before. I haven't even seen the star-laden television adaptation (which was cut down from over 2 hours to 90 minutes), but I may have to make an effort to seek it out now. I can't speak for other versions of it, but I was very impressed by this local one give or take some artistic decisions that I found questionable. I don't claim to have any historical context in order to properly review theatre, nor a particularly strong knowledge of what's going on in the stage world at the moment to properly assess it in the same way I would a film, but other reviews appear to have been similarly impressed as I so I'll trust my judgement that this is a fine rendition of the work.

Everybody who has any interest in the material would know that The Laramie Project is about the vicious hate crime against Matthew Shepherd on a deserted stretch of prairie on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming, in the 1990s. Presented on a very bare stage - only nondescript wooden chairs and a curtain backdrop projecting the images of a cloud-dusted Wyoming sky - its actors present the recorded testimonials of Laramie residents and the Tectonic Theatre members in simple, unfussed manner. Frequently switching between personalities, introduced ever so briefly by a fellow cast-member, the actors occasionally reflect the posture or ticks of their real world counterparts, but more often than not they simply present their words. American accents are adopted - some broad, some less so - and are thoroughly impressive. I was particularly taken by some of the younger cast, especially Luke McKenzie (up there to the right), Maggie Chretien, and Scott Middleton. McKenzie, it must be said, is surely not too far away from being snapped up by an American agent and turned into star. He has the looks to make it, as well as the ability to portray both brute masculinity and heartfelt tenderness. He's like the high school jock who was also really nice to the unpopular kids. His cheek bones alone deserve an agent, at least as they were here as lit by Douglas Montgomery.

Of course, even if the actors weren't up to task then the material would still be remarkably strong. A definite case for substance over style (any style, really), The Laramie Project is economic in its staging, but rich in emotional rewards. I shed several tears, that's for sure, and one woman in particular two rows behind was openly sobbing quite vocally during the final act. Thankfully two seemingly grumpy old men directly behind me didn't return after the first interval, which calls into question whether they had any idea what they were seeing. However, I could have done without the intrusive use of recongnisable Thomas Newman score (American Beauty! Road to Perdition! The Shawshank Redemption! Erin Brockovich!) that drifted in and out in a distracting fashion. Somebody on the production team must be a big Newman fan for there's no real thematic necessary for any music least of all the work of Newman whose preference for sweeping, swirling strings aims to pull heartstrings that the material was strong enough to achieve on its own. At least they didn't use the music of Brokeback Mountain, I guess!

Still, it was a fabulous show and I'm so glad I was able to attend it before it departed. Where it goes to now, if anywhere, is beyond me, but if it gets shipped around to your part of the country I'd definitely recommend you go see it. Whether you've seen it before or not, it's never too late to be reminded of what it was like (and still is for some, obviously) for some gay men. Even if you're not gay though, it has vital things to say and that, I suppose, is something to be championed. I'd be fascinated to see and hear the original recordings, since the very earnest nature of their words could be even more powerful when being heard from their own mouths. Still, if not that then this will do just fine.

31 Horrors: Peeping Tom (#23)

Wherein I attempt to watch 31 horror films over the course of October. 31 horror films that I have never seen before, from obscure to acclaimed classics. We'll see how well I go in actually finding the time to watch and then write about them in some way.

I still have a few of my October viewings left to write up, but Michael Powell's classic Peeping Tom is officially the first of my horror selections to have been screened in November. I ran out of time, but am still wanting to watch the 31. It was inevitable given my late night start times usually resulted in me going "oh, I'll leave that movie that is hailed a masterpiece until another time when I won't have a high chance of falling asleep and, instead, will watch something sillier and lighter." Ya know? Yeah. I still very much anticipate watching Changeling and Don't Look Now, but at the time I felt more like, oh I dunno, Student Bodies instead.

Still, no matter whether I watched it in October or in April, I'd still want to talk about Peeping Tom! More of a thriller than horror - certainly less horror inclined that the film it is frequently linked to, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (yet another instance of my October horror selections having a connection to that particular masterpiece) - it still manages to conjure up an intensely nerve-wracking world that I found entirely captivating. Whether deliberately or not, Peeping Tom embraces an artificial aesthetic that is both glorious to look at and yet a prominent thematic device. The film is, after all, about voyeurism and what better way to subliminally instruct an audience that filmgoing is, essentially, an act of voyeurism than by playing up the cinematic language? Catching audiences off guard with damning themes seems to go down a lot easier when its drawn in bold colours and deliciously constructed imagery.

Known as the first "slasher" film - "Peeping Tom, 1960, directed by Michael Powell. The first movie to ever put the audience in the killer's POV", Scream 4 naturally - and released the same year as Psycho, it's actually quite easy to see how this film caused such a ruckus in Powell's home country of Britain (also Hitchcock's home country, but Psycho was an American production). Presenting England in such a light, especially by one of their own, can't have have endeared him to too many people. The seemingly rather easily replicable nature of the crimes with the increasing popularity of home cameras, too. As a member of the famed Powell & Pressburger team, this was a detour and one that essentially ended his career, which is a particularly cruel fate given the (eventual) rapturous response that Hitchcock's Psycho received. The film was also a very obvious inspiration on the aforementioned Scream franchise (especially number 4), which gets it bonus kudos points from me.

Peeping Tom's biggest hurdle is its lead actor, Karlheinz Böhm. With his breath, somewhat posh, vocal delivery, the character of Mark Lewis is hardly a charismatic one. Of course, he doesn't necessarily have to be. I guess if he were then the scenes wherein we're meant to believe he's coming out of his shell thanks to the inquisitive Helen, played by Anna Massey, wouldn't come off quite as creepy as hell as it does, which was surely Powell's intention. He's a weirdo that most viewers would have had a hard time responding to (much different to Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates) and the acting style that Karlheinz Böhm utilises is occasionally quite distracting in its lack of subtlety.

Still, Peeping Tom doesn't rise or fall simply on the actor's shoulder (and, it must be said that Maxine Audley is super fantastic as the blind mother of Massey's Helen). It's a film deep in rich context that's so wonderfully explained by one Martin Scorsese:

"I have always felt that Peeping Tom and 8½ say everything that can be said about film-making, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two. 8½ captures the glamour and enjoyment of film-making, while Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates... From studying them you can discover everything about people who make films, or at least people who express themselves through films."

Furthermore, the character of Mark Lewis frequently alternating between real world and the world as viewed through his camera, it's almost as he really isn't there. Much like Patrick Bateman who used those almost exact words in one of his pre-homicide monologues, Mark seems permanently poised on the verge of disappearing altogether. Swathed in oversized jackets and uncomfortable without his prized camera possession, his meek demeanor only forms flesh and blood when, well, in the presence of somebody else's flesh and blood. Much like Halloween begins from the perspective of Michael Myers before effectively moving onto a permanent otherly plain of existence, Peeping Tom portrays this man as somebody who never really was. He floats about seemingly unnoticed by many, and those who do don't tend to think too highly of him. Years of seeing his predominant male figure pursuing the act of perverse voyeurism has allowed him to slink through life determined to not be the sort of person that anybody would care about.

Peeping Tom is, perhaps more than anything else, a ravishing visual treat. The cinematography of Otto Heller is marvellous and works wonders in bringing a sort of film noir meets technicolour palace to life. The human figures that navigate his frame frequently weave through as Heller's camera glides ever so gracefully around them, cornering them in their own shadows. The confrontation sequence between Mark and the blind Mrs Stephens is a master of this blend of styles and was, for me, the film's greatest moment. Maximum suspense is wrung out of the otherwise innocuous camera that Mark carries around like a comfort blanket. It's spinning gears capturing death intensely and up close makes for a stunning piece of set decoration long before we discover the secret device hidden within it.

There's obvious much more to go into with this movie, but in a more formal way. I'm sure there are plenty of people who've done that and with far more intelligence than I. I was deeply involved by Peeping Tom, and parallels to Psycho aside, found it to be a startlingly original and daring piece of work. It's entirely apt that Michael Powell's career was ruined because of Peeping Tom since he almost seems to be going out of his way to make a film that can very easily be seen as him blasting audiences for their cinematic bloodlust. It's an endlessly fascinating film and one that shan't forget too soon. A

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Diane's Jukebox

So, I was listening to the soundtrack of Burlesque.

Now, now, settle down, I know you all love that movie, but I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about Diane Warren! Okay, let's talk about Burlesque just briefly. Will we ever truly forgive the Academy's music branch for snubbing (for once that word is actually accurate here, I believe) "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me"? I mean, I know at the time they were all "wow, that Randy Newman song from Toy Story 3 is so special and unique and such a big, powerful moment in the film! And how about that Dido tune from 127 Hours, am I right?" but I don't know anybody who was even aware those movies had an original song minutes after the credits ended let alone in retrospect. Hum it now, just try. Grrr. Never forget, I tells ya! Never forget!


I'm not much of a fan of Broadway jukebox musicals, those that use a catalogue of pre-existing music to bypass modern audience's finicky nature towards original - why spend $100 on a show when they might not even like the music, when they could spend $100 on a show with songs they already know and love getting performed by trained professionals who probably can't believe they're on a stage singing the soundtrack to Rock of Ages. Oh sure, sometimes they can be entertaining, and I certainly think somebody like Baz Luhrmann can do something really interesting with the concept on screen, but if I was visiting Broadway I'd prefer to take in a show like The Light in the Piazza rather than Jersey Boys or Mamma Mia!, you know?

However, one show I'll be interested to see develop is this Diane Warren one that will be filtering through that songwriter's envious career of pop records and building a story around it. A story that will surely be one of the most adult contemporary things ever put on the stage! Warren isn't exactly a subtle songwriter and she favours songs that build to big, big notes. Can you just imagine tracks like "If I Could Turn Back Time", "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" (yes, the Oscar-nominated song from Mannequin). It'll be two and a half hours of non-stop power ballads and good grief what about all of the Celine Dion?!? My gawd, you guys, this production is going to be insane. "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" is just dying to be the first act closer before intermission, is it not?

Having said that, there are certainly a couple of Warren's more underrated tracks that I hope they can shine a light on. Exposé, one of the best girlgroups from the '80s, had a fabulous track by Warren called "I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me" that, I think we can all agree, would certainly look right at home in a playbill. Laura Branigan's "Solitaire" is also an interesting one, as is "The One I Gave My Heart To" by Aaliyah, and "Numb" from the Pet Shop Boys' Fundamental album. They'd certainly be unsurprising song selections from a woman's career that is more heavily associated with Celine, Cher, Leann Rimes and the big cinema ballads that have garnered her six Oscar nominations. This video here of Aaliyah's "The One I Gave My Heart To" actually features Diane Warren herself! That's kinda nifty. Plus, you know, Aaliyah was simply a brilliant performer.

No word yet on whether Cosima DeVito's "Now That You Can't Have Me" will be included, but good grief just picture it. She could certainly use the publicity. To be honest though, I think that's definitely the last we've heard of Cosima.