Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Like Crazy

Like Crazy
Dir. Drake Doremus
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M15+
Running Time: 86mins

I have a more appropriate title for Drake Doremus’ twentysomething romance fable, Like Crazy. It’s hardly beyond reason to think that a film with such a title should be a bit more wild and bold in its ambitions and executions. Shall we say it should be more… crazy? Rather than anything close to resembling the state of a mad, insanely heretic love that can conquer all, the lovebirds at the centre of this frustrating film would be more apt to call their love affair “like pleasant”. Perhaps “like cute” in a pinch. If this is the filmmakers’ idea of crazy then they must implode of excitement at their local Bingo Night.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

We went for something a bit different in reviewing Like Crazy over at Trespass, with two of us - one on the positive, one negative - reviewing it side-by-side. I, however, think I win since I even have the ladies at Go Fug Yourself agreeing with me, y'all! The Power of Fug is on Team Glenn. C-

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Diary of a Female Director

You know, a lot of people throw accusations at the Academy for not nominating enough women directors or people of colour or... or... yeah, you get the drill. I've always found it a curious sling to throw at the Oscars since they can only really work with what they're given by Hollywood. Oh sure, it's curious when they don't nominate Barbra Streisand for her own Best Picture nominee (The Prince of Tides if you don't remember, which lead to Billy Crystal singing "did it direct itself?"), but I suspect that was more about not nominating BARBRA STREISAND for a relatively milquetoast domestic drama rather than not nominating a woman director because she lacks a penis. I mean, you don't nominate Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties 1976 if you have something against female directors, do you? I don't know, I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, I just know that the lack of a women director presence at the Academy Awards is surely directly correlated to the lack of a woman director presence making films in general. Same goes for charges of racism against the Academy for not nominating enough actors of colour when it's hardly like Hollywood is casting them left, right and centre, you know?

Still, to be a fly on the wall of a female director's career could be interesting. Take Mary Harron for instance. She directed an acclaimed indie flick in the form of I Shot Andy Warhol, turned that into the zeitgeist cult (oxymoron, I know, but think about it) success of American Psycho - my third favourite film of the 2000s, just so you know where I'm coming from - and then... well, it gets complicated. Despite making a film of such undeniable craft and being responsible for thrusting Christian Bale into the world, her film career languished. I would be excited to see her name appear in the credits of TV series Six Feet Under, but it took five years to see another feature from Harron and that was the underwhelming, but still rather good, The Notorious Bettie Page. It's as if all the air was let out from her career for seemingly no apparent reason. The Bettie Page screenplay was co-written with Genevieve Turner, but I really do wonder if nobody in Hollywood gave her scripts to direct. Did she turn them down to make her own works? She proved with American Psycho that she could direct and unlike many films that get released today she knows where to place a camera and how to actually use it and integrate it with all the other parts of the moviemaking machine. So was she just not given the opportunity or did she not want it? I'd really like to know.

All of this brings me to the sad case of The Moth Diaries. Harron's latest film has been hovering about for a while now and I read a read last year that was not kind. With this newly released poster, I can't say I hold out hope for the film that looks like little more than a cheap knockoff for the Twilight set. They even use the Twilight font and the same cold steal blue look of the first film. It reminds me of those cheap ripoffs you see on the shelves at the local video store, like Paranormal Visions or whatever that use the exact same aesthetic and marketing as the films they are copying.


For her sake and mine, I hope she gets back on track soon.

A Wonderful Night for Oscars?

Another year, another Academy Award ceremony. I've seen the show twice - once at an industry function where I won The Fog of War on DVD for correctly answering a trivia question (answer: Jack Nicholson), and a second time at a friend's get together later in the evening, such are the "benefits" of time zones meaning it airs live at Midday - and actually quite liked it. Certainly much better than last years, but not as classy as the Bill Condon/Hugh Jackman year, which I look more fondly at as each year goes by. Let's take a look at the night through its most obvious prisms.


The Hosting:
Look, I think we were all a bit disappointed when the implosion of the originally planned Brett Ratner/Eddie Murphy Oscars brought about a swift safe about-face that resulting in 8-time host Billy Crystal's instalment as the new host. Last year's show as hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway was a disaster, and in the face of a PR nightmare involving Ratner's use of a gay slur, it made sense to stick as close to a previously tried and tested safe script as possible. The online meme petition to get The Muppets hosting was obviously never going to pan out (although the brief appearance of Kermit and Miss Piggy was marred by an off vocal artist for the frog), but Crystal ended up being not too bad. He was perfectly fine, really, with his collection of dad jokes eliciting minor chuckles and grins without troubling anybody in the audience or in the editing suite upstairs. Jokes about March of the Penguins, however? Umm, okay. You haven't hosted in a while, Billy, but you're still only hosting the 2012 Oscars, not the 2006 ones at the same time.

No matter what he did, I'd still rather his rusty routine over the toxic hosting job that Chris Rock provided - although, in a twist, Chris Rock was actually very funny in his brief presenting gig - several years back. His Nick Nolte impersonation was great, as were several of his smaller moments like that chucklesome "eh!" as the pomp and grandeur of the original score category was played for laughs. I will say that Billy Crystal as Tintin was one of the scariest things I have ever seen! I'm not sure what that film would have looked like with a live action actor in the role, certainly one more age specific, but yikes! Motion capture all the way, please.

Still, nothing can quite compare to the hosting gig that Seth Rogen performed at the Independent Spirit Awards. I admit to a preference to Rogen, but his style was certainly suited the Indies that were held a day earlier. I have only been able to see his opening montage, which you can view below including fantastic reaction shots from Laura Dern and Patricia Clarkson, but his gags about Brett Ratner and Chris Brown were particularly choice. Billy Crystal wouldn't go near that, for obvious reasons.



The Montages:
I jokingly tweeted very early in the evening about "Superfluous movie montage number one!" and, well, I didn't keep tabs on how many there were, but there were thankfully not as many as years past. Or, at least, it didn't feel like there were many because they were all actors sitting in front of a grey screen and saying stuff so they kind of all felt like one big long montage. I'm glad they jettisoned the cumbersome "the year in animation!" or "the history of horror!" reel packages that have bloated ceremonies past. Still, when an ode to classic cinema (or whatever) includes Forrest Gump and Twilight within it's first few images, you know something's wrong. As Justin Bieber's 18-24 demographic have proven time and time again, they don't care about old people and their old movies. Gross, ew.

The Presenters:
Look, I don't want to put too fine of a point on it, but Emma Stone was clearly the greatest presenter in the history of forever. Okay, maybe that's getting a bit hyperbolic, but wasn't she great? Her rendition as an overly-buzzed and ecstatically peppy version of herself was my favourite part of the entire evening. She was one of the few to get genuine guffaws from both crowds I watched it with, and she proved yet again (as in Easy A wasn't proof enough) that she a truly fine comedienne. I'd like to think that when Stone eventually wins an Academy Award that it will be for a comedy role and not for, like say Sandra Bullock two years back, a dramatic turn since comedy is - as least from what I've seen of her work so far - her forte. She was dressed divine, too, I'm tempted to say best dressed but I haven't really looked through enough of the fashions to say anything definite.

It's of little surprise that the six female cast members of Bridesmaids - divided into "Kristen and Maya", "Rose and Melissa" and "The Other Two" - would be given a lesser category to add their zip to and they succeeded. They added some really refreshingly light air to the presentation of the three short film categories later into the proceedings, but I did wonder where Chris O'Dowd was. I like to imagine he was the one yelling "SCORSESE" from the crowd. As Nathaniel Rogers said, these women made 2011's award season so much more entertaining! Get them more plum movie roles as a thank you, Hollywood! Meanwhile, closer to the beginning of the evening, I had no idea what the Double Zs were doing with their backwards head pop, but Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz's whackadoo presenting of best make-up was at least a refreshing change of the pace for two ladies whose award show skills always leave much to be desired. I laughed, that's for sure. Not sure what from, but I laughed nonetheless. Points for Lopez looking like she just escaped from the Xanadu rehab clinic, too!


Unfortunately, they weren't all zesty fun, no sir. Robert Downey Jr's moment is well and truly done, and his routine as an Oscar presenter filming a documentary about presenting was incredibly unfunny. And to drag the magical Gwyneth Paltrow down with him? For shame! Sandra Bullock is too charming to let that weird Chinese/German skit fail too badly, but it was still weird. Melissa Leo was eerily intense, Tom Hanks was a lazily charming snooze as usual and the pairs of Tina Fey/Bradley Cooper and Penelopze Cruz/Owen Wilson were given nothing to do.

Speaking of Bradley Cooper...

The Moustache:
It took me literally one second to go from "ew gross!" upon seeing Bradley Cooper saunter out on stage with a moustache to then admiring it and wanting to make sweet, sweet love to him.


The Presentations:
They were nicely done, but too rushed. I would have liked a bit more focus on the technical categories like years past. Where were the costume sketches or the wonderful editing montages? I found it curious that they got directors to talk about the craft when most of them are just as unknown as the craftsmen (we don't need to see Michael Bay there, either). And as nice as it is to see Meryl Streep and Glenn Close gush over their make-up artists, them doing so meant we didn't get to seem much of the craft at all. As for the actor clips? Well, they were mostly quite good, although Jessica Chastain should have a word with somebody over who chose that scene for her. I'd complain about Meryl Streep being lumped with an awful scene from The Iron Lady, but every scene in that movie is awful so it must have been hard. What I was most happy about was the way they didn't make the entire ceremony about just two movies. Last year they had montages of The King's Speech and The Social Network and nothing else. At least here other films got a look in and some space to be seen.

The Interludes:
The Wizard of Oz test screening skit surely just reminded everyone of how much we need another Christopher Guest film, didn't it? I can't even remember the last film any of these actors were in other than Jennifer Coolidge being even weirder than usual in that weirder than usual Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Eugene Levy is back for "another slice of American Pie", isn't he? Yikes. Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman feel like so long ago (because they were)!

Elsewhere though, a routine by Cirque du Soleil tried desperately to appear as if it had anything to do with "the spirit of the movies" (or, ya know, whatever) but it really just ended up being a nicely executed Cirque du Soleil number. Nothing against them, they're great at what they do, but I would have preferred the original song nominees get to perform rather than some acrobats flying about trying to appear as if they're recreating North by Northwest.

I surprisingly didn't loathe the Will Ferrell/Zach Galifiniakis thing that happened at one point. Two actors who usually turn me way off, but they were kind of endearing in their dorkiness. Also:


Yeah, okay. I can dig.

The Speeches:
How wonderful they were! Not only were they all short - only the documentarian winners were played off, but that surely had more to do with their use of an expletive that wasn't caught by the network censors - but all the actors gave nicely done speeches. Even the behind the scenes personalities who, through no fault other than they're so rarely called upon to talk in public, can flounder about on stage were mostly eloquent. And even when they weren't (like the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo editors) they were endearingly so. Hugo sound editors were great, weren't they? It was a good job of the Academy to, I suspect, give their nominees the memo of trying to keep their speech in theme of cinema memories. That was a nice point that gave the night a real narrative.

I particularly enjoyed Christopher Plummer's who cracked wise and sentimental with his new golden man. His brief but special mention to Max von Sydow was a sweet tip of the hat to a man of equal age who was in the unfortunate place of being up against another 82-year-old legend in a more widely-liked picture.


"You're only two years older than me. Where have you been all my life"


The Winners!:
We'll get to Meryl Streep and The Artist is a bit, but I more or less liked the roster of winners that the Academy gave us. I think it's a bit ludicrous to award Hugo with the Visual Effects and Cinematography Oscars over the competition, but what can you do? At least they didn't screw up and let A Separation leave empty handed! I was definitely happy to see Mark Bridges, a costuming god, take home his first statue, and it was a kick to see Octavia Spencer, Christopher Plummer and Jean Dujardin win awards having commanded respect in such different ways and in such rapidly different amounts of time.

One win I really didn't like was that of The Descendants for Best Adapted Screenplay. I don't say this just because I think the movie of hopeless trash, but because one of the three winner's, the film's director Alexander Payne, has publicly dissed his co-winners, having said their original script wasn't up the scratch. And then, of course, he didn't even let them speak in a speech that included a line about "the first time I won one of these". All class.

I did ridiculously bad in my predictions, but that's because when you have one hunch you then seem to have to alter everything else along with it. I thought Streep would lose, and that they'd then give make-up to Harry Potter! I also new Hugo would win cinematography, but foolishly bet against it whilst not expecting it to win in visual effects. I even more foolishly hoped for a Descendants shut out, which would let Hugo take screenplay and without the need to give Hugo excessive consolation prizes they would give War Horse the two sound categories. And then there were the shorts and the documentary and... well, I didn't even bother to count how many I got right because it was obviously terrible. Lesson: Look at what you predicted several months ago and go with that!

Meryl Streep vs Viola Davis:
And so we get to the most conflicting moment of the event. It really is hard to stay mad at Meryl Streep for winning a third Oscar when she gives such good speech, but The Iron Lady was a terrible movie and it can now claim itself as a two time Academy Award winner! Still, Streep's third win shouldn't have come at the bitter cost of one Viola Davis. It's hard to argue in defense of The Help since I can see what its detractors don't like about it. I just, however, feel like this was a moment prime to make a powerful statement. It would have been the first time two black women ever won two acting Oscars in the same year, and it would have been great to see the fabulous Viola Davis, a hard-working character actress who frequently turned small and even one scene roles into film-defining moments (Doubt, Antwone Fisher, Far from Heaven, World Trade Center) get a chance to be up on stage doing something so few in her position have had the chance to.


The always classy Guy Lodge at InContention has written about the situation far better than I ever could, but it all comes down to this one moment:

Even without the added attraction of doubling the number of non-white Best Actress champs in a single move, Davis's nomination offered the Academy the chance to reward the right actress for the right role at the right time, potentially elevating a career in the process. For her part, Davis played the campaign game with a mixture of good-humored grace and provocative intelligence, somehow pointedly reminding voters of what they stood to gain from rewarding an actress like her without ever sounding entitled to their votes in the process. How could they resist?
For all the talk of Academy producers wanting to get more blockbusters amongst the nominees and subsequent winners circles, the actual voters seem to have no desire whatsoever. The Help was the highest grossing original film of 2011 in America (I think it eventually overtook Bridesmaids, didn't it?), which was a big deal for a film about women, and especially black women. Davis inarguably elevated The Help to what it was (alongside Spencer and Jessica Chastain and some of the other non-nominated actors) and giving her a Best Actress trophy would be a clear and definitive sign from the industry to the studios to make more films of this kind. Unfortunately, they went with an already two-time winner giving a good-but-not-revelatory mimicry performance in a disastrous biopic. It's the Academy's version of going to a fancy restaurant and having "the usual".

It's the one win that left an actual bitter taste of disappointment as I navigated the post-show rubble. What a moment it would have been to see Viola Davis on stage in that stunning green dress and natural hair holding that statue up high alongside her cast mate, making history. Singlehandedly doubling the number of African American winners in the category, too, and giving Davis' career the sort of honour that she had been building towards. People say she will have more opportunities - somebody please adapt Fences, yeah? - but I'm sure they said that about Angela Bassett, too, and now she's playing fifth fiddle to air and explosions in claptrap like This Means War and Green Lantern.

The Artist Winning Best Picture is a Good Thing:
Sure, I was firmly in team Hugo and Moneyball, but think about this for a minute: For all the hullabaloo that was made in recent weeks about The Artist's sweep to victory, how "nobody actually likes it that much" and that it's a bad choice for best picture, The Artist is actually a remarkably out-of-the-box choice for the big award. Think about it: A french (for the first time ever), black and white (first the first time in 18 years), silent (first time in over 80 years) romantic-comedy (the first since Shakespeare in Love) won Hollywood's highest accolade. If The Artist weren't the frontrunner and ultimate winner then it is the exact type of film that people would criticise the Academy for not awarding. It's the same issue I've found with people criticising The Academy's citations for Chicago and the aforementioned Shakespeare in Love. People routinely mock "Oscar bait" and flippantly remark about how they never reward anything outside of their safe wheelhouse, but then when they do they, I suppose, choose the wrong film outside of their wheelhouse. If the choice of The Artist as Best Picture is an "embarrassment" then I think the Academy should just throw their hands in the air and admit defeat. You will never please the never pleased.

The Busy Phillips:
Despite what Busy Phillips' daughter says, Michelle Williams can get nominated all she likes because it means I get to see more of my beloved Busy Phillips! Williams is always portrayed as a solemn wilting petal, but I can't help but imagine these two drinking copious amounts of cocktails and having a riot of a good time. They slay your favourite celebrity BFFs, okay! More Busy! More Busy!


Overall I think they did a nice, pleasant job with this year's Oscars. Respectful is a good word to use, I think, although that Viola Davis loss still stings. It won't rock the boat, but it shouldn't give the detractors too much ammunition with which to hypocritically complain about. What's that? You hate the Oscars and everything they stand for and yet you freely participate in the circus and, in fact, make it more negative and toxic by doing so? Thank you. Thanks a lot. I mean, I think it's really incredibly annoying to have to see people who don't care about it and yet make it their life's mission to show better they are than everybody who does. Let people have their fun, okay! We know it's all a bit silly and that awards really don't mean all that much, but the killjoys will never cease so it's best to just try and tune them out and enjoy the show. In the end though, I think Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy had the best idea out of everyone!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tyrannosaurus Lynch

Late last year I read this fabulous article in The Guardian asking whether David Lynch had retired as a film director. It reads as an obituary to his career as a filmmaker, but not his creative endeavours. It's a piece that rattled about my brain as I wrote about two new Lynch releases at Trespass Magazine today. The piece in The Guardian notions that if Lynch, that madman of Americana, never made another film then, actually, that's a-okay what with the way Inland Empire from 2006 acts as not only a cruel and ugly mirror to the high gloss magnum opus, Mulholland Drive, but also as an appropriately matching bookend to Eraserhead, the film that started it all. Still, we now have Blu-ray editions of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (my second favourite Lynch film after Mulholland Drive) and Lost Highway. Read Trespass Magazine to see what I have to say about them.

Speaking of Twin Peaks, I found this video just the other week as I trawled YouTube for videos of The Golden Girls actresses winning their Emmys. Isn't it a treasure?!?


I also wanted to mention Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur, which is finally getting a (very limited) release in Australia after appearing across the festival circuit last year. It's got the British kitchen sink milieu down pat, but successfully avoids the suffocating miserabalism that makes films of this kind so deeply unpleasant and rough viewing. I've seen it twice now, and the second viewing was remarkably easy. The film has its problems, sure, but being able to sit and watch Olivia Colman give this performance is truly a gift. Anybody who has seen it will know what I mean when I say "the scene", but the scene is a truly devastating piece of cinema that must be experienced for the sheer ferocity of Colman's performance. Her line readings haunted me for months after seeing it at MIFF in August and they continue to to this very day. That she never got a foot in the door, nor even a smidgen of a look in during the awards season (even by the British segment for the most part) was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole circus. How exactly actors and critics saw that performance and didn't think it deserved plaudits is actually quite troubling, which makes me believe they were just being lazy and didn't bother to watch it.

*sigh*

I know, Olivia. I know.

Tyrannosaur is out now exclusive to Cinema Nova here in Melbourne and I hope it shows up somewhere else around the country. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Lost Highway are out now on Madman's "Director's Suite" label.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Thoughts on A Separation + Win Tickets!

It must be hard being the only person to not like a film. Or, at least, the only critic. Such was the dilemma I was thinking about in relation to David Nusair's review of A Separation, the lone "rotten" review to appear on Rotten Tomatoes and, thus, bringing the film down from it's perch of a perfect 100%. That this bruising Iranian domestic drama has found 107 positive reviews out of 108 is truly remarkable and while I don't share Nusair's negativity about the film, it's certainly one I can sympathise with having been in a position of disliking well loved films before. Of course, I don't know if I've ever disliked a film that has proved to be quite so popular as A Separation, but one negative reaction from a sea of the very opposite seems like a win to win. The reaction of The Internet is, naturally, quite grotesque with this man being called all sorts of things. At one point the people responding start squabbling amongst each other for noth coming up with harsh enough insults! My, what a magical world we live it. I guess it makes sense that a film about ordinary people arguing over petty things that escalates into much, much more should elicit such reactions from people.

Nevertheless, A Separation is indeed very fantastic. Beautiful performed and crafted, the beauty of the central conflict is that no one side is demonised. Even if Leila Hatami's Simin sometimes comes off as selfish and a bad mother, it's hard not to see where she's coming from in her position as a wife being slowly suffocated. You can see the logic in everybody's motivations, from the daughter who debates with herself over the potential of her father lying, to the woman who becomes intricately involved with the divorcing couple. At the heart of Asghar Farhadi's movie are the "separations", not just of the divorcing couple at the forefront, but the separation of heart and logic, religion and work, family and truth. There could have been several different films made about each of the plots that circulate throughout, but Farhadi's exceptional handling of the intricate plotting and the cast's dialogue delivery that seemingly just rolls off of their tongues make it all feel vital and necessary. It demands to be seen. A-

WOO HOO! Thanks to the people at Hopscotch I have a few double passes to give away for A Separation. They are only to be used within Australia, obviously, at participating cinemas. The back of the passes inform me that the film will be screening in at least one cinema in each state except for the Northern Territory. To enter simply send me an email with "A Separation" in the subject line and I'll get back to the winners for your contact details.

Brothers in Arms

Kathryn Bigelow sure does like to populate her middle east war movies with good looking blokes, doesn't she? As if Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty in The Hurt Locker wasn't enough, she's gone and sent both Edgerton brothers, Joel and Nash, out to go hunting for Osama Bin Laden. Naturally. Nash is the latest addition to the cast that already includes Mark Strong, Edgar Ramirez and Kyle "Coach Taylor" Chandler. Who knew the team of US soldiers that captured the world's most wanted man was so gosh darn good lookin'!

Joel Edgerton is a name you're surely well aware of - certainly if you're a reader of Stale Popcorn you are since he routinely makes local Australian films in between larger American fare like this and Warrior - but Nash, maybe less so. In the pantheon of double and triple threats for filmmaking, he ranks a solid 'off the chart!' Not only is he an actor, he is a stuntman/director/writer/producer and editor. George Clooney eat your heart out! Er, well, maybe we won't go that far just yet. Still, The Square was a really expertly done and tightly-wound thriller, and Bear played at last year's Cannes film festival, plus his stunt work has featured in so many big name titles that it's hard to keep track. He's his brother's stunt double in Baz Luhrmann's upcoming The Great Gatsby, which is kinda nice. It will be great to see the two of them on screen together in Bigelow's film, won't it? If little else, we at least know there are some great genes running through the Edgerton clan!

Yeah, that family isn't exactly wanting for some scruffy handsomeness, is it?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

10 Great Moments from Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis

Wow.

I had never seen Steven Soderbergh's Schizopolis, a film that some people have murmured about being really spectacular, but which most either hate or haven't seen. In 1997 it made just a smidgen over $10,000 and it was widely panned at the Cannes Film Festival, so when I happened upon it at my local library I grabbed it. The Criterion DVD cover states it is "inspired by rumors, bald-faced lies, and half-remembered dreams!" That certainly sounds about right, but it's bizarre experiment into surrealism is so wildly inventive and entertaining that I find it quite easy to rank this alongside Erin Brockovich and sex, lies, and videotape as Soderbergh's finest work. Appearing as if like an oasis, Schizopolis feels miraculously ahead of its time and says more about the modern man's existence than many straight-forward dramas. It's unique brand of comedy, filled with non-sequitur sidebars, roundabout running gags and over-lapping, non-linear plot strands that double back on themselves to reveal altogether new and twisted meanings, feels like a precursor to the brand of humour made popular out of television series such as Arrested Development, Scrubs and Community.

So, as a way of not taking up 2000 words describing why it's so great, I thought I'd do a list. In chronological order, here are my ten favourite bits about Schizopolis. I could make a list of so many, many more but I have to draw the line somewhere. I hope that if any of these things tickle your fancy in the written form then you should run to a copy of the DVD - the Criterion edition, which is the only one out there as far as I am aware, has extra gags on the insert of the DVD sleeve and apparently a truly bonkers Soderbergh interviewing Soderbergh audio commentary that I unfortunately ran out of time to listen to - and see it for themselves. It's all so magically insane and the actors are incredible and give the dialogue a free-flowing quality that acts as a natural grounding to the absurd proceedings.

1. The Introduction
The film's writer, director, producer, cinematographer and, yes, star, Steven Soderbergh, introduces his film to audiences in a prologue that was included after the film's negative reaction at Cannes. Never one to kowtow to distributor pressure, Soderbergh then made the prologue as kooky as the rest of the film as the camera frequently spins out of orbit in between Soderbergh extolling such boastful dialogue as "this is the most important motion picture you will ever attend ... the delicate fabric that holds all of us together will be ripped apart unless every man, woman and child in this country sees this film and pays full ticket price, not some bargain, cut-rate matinee deal."

"In the event that you find certain sequences or ideas confusing, please bare in mind that this is your fault, not ours. You will need to see the picture again and again and again until you understand everything."


2. The mole, the spy and the right-hand man
This entire scene appears to be little more than a reason for Soderbergh to assemble some of his wonderfully off-beat cast (including Eddie Jemison who is one those "that guy!"s that routinely pops up in everything under the sun) to stand around reeling off delightfully convoluted dialogue that is constantly being repeated, corrected and upended. This entire scene had me chuckling from beginning to end the sheer simplistic lunacy of it all.

"This guy tells me the right-hand man has a mole."
"A spy and a mole?"
"No, I didn't say that, I said - "
"You said there's a guy leaking information... that's a spy."
"Then you said the right-hand man got himself a mole. I would assume to check on the spy."
"That's two people."
"Okay, there's a spy and a mole."
"Well that's twice as many as a minute ago."
"I say the guy who told you is the mole."
"You're the mole."
"No, no, no, no, he's the spy."
"No he's the spy!"
"If I were the spy would I be standing here saying there a spy?"
"Or a mole."


3. "Generic greeting"
Perhaps my favourite scene in Soderbergh's entire bonkers affair are the stretches of dialogue in "segment 1" wherein Soderbergh's Fletcher Munson and his wife exchange empty words with fake inflections and exaggerated facial expressions. Deliciously inspired, it's probably one of the keenest observations on a failing marriage I've seen in quite some time.

"Generic greeting."
"Generic greeting returned."
"Imminent sustenance."
"Overly dramatic statement regarding upcoming meal."
"Oooh, false reaction indicating hunger and excitement!"


4. sex, lies, and videotape
The sly references to his Oscar-nominated, Palme d'Or-winning classic, sex, lies, and videotape, appear throughout as a peculiar exterminator man who enters peoples houses and has sex with the stay-at-home wives them while filming and taking photos on their person cameras. Why not, I guess?


5. "Proofing!"

6. The news reports
As far as I can these these little inserts have literally nothing to do with the rest of the film, which is why their randomness is so amusing. Perhaps another example of Soderbergh's sign of Soderbergh's sign o' the times ideology as we criticises the laziness of films to simply have a news reporter reel off a bunch of exposition before moving on to yet another scene of bare-brained action. "At least we didn't sell it to the fucking Japanese", was another priceless one from later in the movie.

"We interrupt this program to bring you a news bulletin. Scientists at NASA have confirmed that the comet Havarti is on course for Earth. The odds of the comet colliding directly with our planet are being calculated at this very moment. In a related story, the price of capturing, restraining and institutionalising a naked man in a tee-shirt remains stable at around $367.50."


7. Muzak
For whatever reason, I just love that the second of Steven Soderbergh's self-acted characters listens to mall muzak in his car. Didn't Arrested Development use muzak, or just had music inspired by it? I seem to recall that being a thing. Gosh, I need to rewatch Arrested Development! So very good. Is that movie ever happening? If it does I hope it's as polarising as, say, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was.


8. Golf
Don't even bother trying to get me to explain this.

"And then another funny thing happened followed by two things that were pretty amusing and the whole thing ended with something that was just hysterical."


9. Foreign languages
In a twist on the "generic greeting" sequences from earlier, the first third of the film is now replayed through the eyes of Soderbergh's wife (literally, she's played by Soderbergh's ex-wife) with all of his dialogue spoken in Japanese, French and Italian. Just go with it, okay?


10. Q&A
Soderbergh returns to the empty theatre of his film's prologue and indulges in a one-way question and answer session. What with there being nobody to actually answer questions (surely he knew nobody was going to go see this film and so, in effect, has the last laugh) he merely replies with nondescript answers that could apply to all sorts of questions on any number of topics. Schizopolis features no opening or closing credits so these prologues and epilogues act as book-ends to an otherwise rather shapeless entity.

"I know this is an unusual procedure, but I thought you might have some questions and since I'm already here I can answer some of them. Yes. Yes. Not specifically, I actually find all of them rather weird. Yes. Foot-long vegie on wheat."

Like I said, it's kind of hard to really boil everything from Schizopolis down into an easily digestible read. I hope anybody out there who hasn't had the pleasure of discovering this obscure gem does so (I know there are a lot who haven't, okay!) because it truly is a one-of-a-kind experience worth indulging. Even if you end up disliking it, you won't be able to say it wasn't something you'd seen before. A

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Dir. Stephen Daldry
Country: USA
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 129mins

Extremely Loud and Incredible Close is a strange movie. Directed by Stephen Daldry, for whom many think the phrase “Oscar bait” was invented, this glossy slice of tragedy porn is adapted from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer that thrust the story of an autistic child’s scavenger hunt across the five boroughs of New York City into that of September 11, 2001. It never truly soars the way Daldry’s prior films have – especially Billy Elliot – but it’s far from the embarrassment that many have labelled it following its surprise Best Picture nomination by The Academy. If nothing else, it’s certainly better than War Horse!

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Monday, February 20, 2012

Taking the Omnibus to Sydney

I don't tend to like omnibus films. You know the ones, movies like Paris, je t'aime, New York, I Love You, Coffee & Cigarettes... I always tend to find them lacking. Some of the stories are inevitably good, whilst others are inevitably bad and I end up just wishing the good ones had been properly developed into features. Of course, I've never been the biggest fan of short films in general so I'm kind of on the outside looking in when it comes to films of this sort. Still, one I am definitely looking forward to is Sydney Unplugged.

Announced last year by the project's producer, John Polson, the newly retitled feature (it was previously titled Sydney, I Love You to form a brand association) will include short features that "will illustrate the cultural and social landscape behind one of the world's most beloved cities." Some of the initial directors attached was enough to whet one's appetite, but the full list is quite eye-popping. While there will be directorial efforts by big name actors like Russell Crowe, Toni Collette and Anthony LaPaglia, it is the more seasoned auteurs that have me salivating. The name Ray Lawrence will always get me into a cinema after the one-two punch of Lantana in 2001 and Jindabyne in 2006, which I consider two of the finest films this country has ever produced and his involvement makes my interest a certainty. And then how about John Curran who will be returning home after American films The Painted Veil and We Don't Live Here Anymore. The grunge aesthetic of Praise doesn't really fit into the ideal of presenting Sydney as a place of heavenly delights, but it will be exciting to see what he does with his home turf once again. Rachel Ward is a local celebrity in the harbourside suburb of Balmain, and she will be directing a segment that will most assuredly star her husband and local legend, Bryan Brown. Her feature debut several years back, Beautiful Kate, polarised audiences with its harsh take on incest and I had been wondering when she would get to make another film. Meanwhile, David Michôd, fresh from wowing the world with his debut Animal Kingdom, and snagging an Oscar nomination for his star Jacki Weaver in the process, will keep his local vision up for at least a brief while before America surely scoops him up for future projects.

Keiran Darcy-Smith, the actor whose debut feature, Wish You Were Here, premiered at Sundance in January and will be released here later in the year will also contribute a short, as will Ivan Sen (right) who will surely provide one of the more dramatic pieces following Beneath Clouds, Dreamland and last year's Cannes-player Toomelah. Alex Proyas brings with him a bit of directorial star power now that his proposed Paradise Lost feature has been all but axed by the studio, but it's international blow-in Liev Shreiber that rings a few bells of intrigue. How will this American actor, familiar with our shores after filming Wolverine and marrying Sydneysider Naomi Watts, take to directing the city. His last effort in the director's chair was Everything is Illuminated so it's hard to see how that style will be transported into the Sydney Unplugged project.

Filmink reports that the directors will take up their challenges in the second half of the year - or whenever they can find it in their schedule, one presumes - for a 2013 release, but it's nice to see this film has found some actual quality names to go with it. While Paris, je t'aime was stuffed with fabulous names with everyone from Olivier Assayas to the Coen Brothers, Wes Craven to Sylvain Chomet, the New York edition was spectacularly low on names. Especially odd given the people that got their start in New York, I wouldn't have considered Brett Ratner a particularly wise choice. Names like Ray Lawrence, John Curran and Ivan Sen are names that I would actually be clamouring to see new work from, so Sydney Unplugged (still iffy on the name) is one to keep an eye on. The teaser below premiered at Tropfest over the weekend, but given no footage has even been shot yet it's little more than a piece of promo material aimed at officially announcing the project is a go.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: Buck

Buck
Dir. Cindy Meehl
Country: USA
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 88mins

“I’m not helping people with horse problems, I’m helping horses with people problems.” So declares Buck Brannaman in Buck, an affectionate documentary look at a man whose midwestern fusion of animal hero and Americana legend endears him to horse lovers around the globe and inspired novelists and filmmakers who coined him “The Horse Whisperer”. If Steven Spielberg’s War Horse got on your nerves as much as it did mine, then consider Buck the alternative. Simple and pristinely told with nary a manipulative music score or peach-stained sky to wring tears from even the most unflappable of equine fans, this is a charming – if occasionally too thin – look at Buck’s fascinating life.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Time to Step Up Again

I think I've made it well known that I am a fan of the dance movie - that very special breed of films aimed primarily at younger audiences that are usually little more than one sequence cliched plot exposition right after the after, but with frequent interruptions for dance scenes that are generally little more than extended advertisements for soundtrack albums. Sometimes they strive for something higher, but I tend to find myself enjoying even the most frivolous of these kinds of films. Far and away the best franchise to come about since the genre's re-emergence in the early 2000s with Save the Last Dance has been the Step Up series. I find they examine the idea of community and artists in a really fun way and are much stronger films than people would give them credit for. Step Up 3D, for what it's worth, has some of the best 3D I've seen to date.

All of this is a roundabout way of showing you this "exclusive announcement piece" - I think that means it's a more just a random montage of clips rather than a traditional trailer - for the fourth instalment of the franchise. I hope it's still as good as the second and third films, but at least the dancing is guaranteed to be electric. There are dancing cars, after all!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Review: This Means War

This Means War
Dir. McG
Country: USA
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 98mins

This Means War? You bet it does! The artillery is ready, defense systems are a go and there’s enough ammunition to render the Great Wall of China a mere pile of dust. I’m not talking about the film; I’m talking about the war that I am waging on this violently terrible foray into the action-rom-com genre (think Mr and Mrs Smith or Knight and Day) by director McG. This exhausting and depressing load of claptrap is so completely horrible that I got up and left for several minutes; I had to compose myself from the seething anger that had engulfed me and prepare for the final onslaught of knuckle-dragging numbskullery that McG and his three writers were hurling at the screen. You guys, it’s really, really bad!

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

I wanted to stab everybody involved with this movie in their face. McF.

Xavier's a Grandmother

Well, not quite.

As I've been doing research today for my annual (+a month and a half, it would seem - apologies) round-up of upcoming local features, one title that got me intrigued was The Grandmothers. Don't worry, that title is going to change, I can guarantee it! Not to sound ageist or anything, but any film that describes itself as an "erotic tale" can't go by the name The Grandmothers, it just can't. Especially when your "erotic tale" stars Naomi Watts and Robin Wright as women who fall for each other's sons. I'm not even sure where the "Grandmothers" part comes in since their sons are played by Xavier Samuel and James Frencheville, who are surely too young to have cinematic kids. Maybe I'm wrong, who knows...

Nevertheless, I was disappointed to discover the Australia/France/UK co-production that is currently filming on the northern coast of NSW is set for a 2013 release. It is directed by Anne Fontaine who made Coco avant Chanel so it will surely look pretty... but, then again, that wouldn't be hard with that cast. What's that you say? You want to see pictures of Samuel and Frencheville frolicking about in the waves? Well fine, if you insist... Don't pretend like you didn't expect this, okay.



Yeah, I think I'll be seeing that one. There are even more over at My New Plaid Pants.

Monday, February 13, 2012

When Bad Posters Strike: Dark Tide

I wavered on this. Is this poster truly as bad as I think, or does is actually spin right around into becoming completely amazing? I mean, the poster is clearly a load of bollocks that should never have seen the light of day, and yet I'm infinitely more interested in seeing it now than I ever would have been if they hadn't been so transparent and hidden Halle Berry's breasts and sharky stalker. I feel like I've been transported back to the mid-1990s when cheesy thrillers starring big names seemingly stretched the entirety of the new release section of the local video store. Movies like The Net, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Dark Rain, Deep Rising, The Specialist, Hard Rain, Turbulence, Anaconda, Money Train and Point of No Return (The Assassin) come to mind. Usually with artwork that included a whoosh effect to give off the allure of "high octane thrills and spills". Films that, had they not starred somebody of significance, would have barely eked out much of a direct-to-video campaign let alone a theatrical release.

Let's take a look...


Amazing.

It is so bad. Direct-to-DVD doesn't even begin to describe how terrible this artwork looks... and yet I am *so* there. I'm not even inclined to admire Halle Berry's breasts and yet there they are and I can only imagine how hilarious it's going to be to see her jump around from one precarious situation to the next whilst holding on to her dignity and the few straps of fabric holding said dignity in place. The ridiculously dated typeface isn't helping the mid-'90s nostalgia, neither is Berry's haircut that sorta looks like they used a publicity still (or worse, a paparazzi photo!) from earlier in her career and popped it on the poster. That absurd tagline - "In Shark Alley, courage runs deep" - that makes no sense, but makes me wish Don LaFontaine was still alive to tear into that line with delicious vigour. "From the director of Blue Crush and Into the Blue", meanwhile, probably only means anything to anybody who has a particular fondness for underwater cinematography and tanned, lithe bodies.

Most hilarious of all is the shark fin, which... well, I don't want to be crass, but look where it is. Ow.

The trailer on the other hand makes the film look like none of the amazing cheese the poster alludes to. It just looks a bit dull. Notch that one up to another win for the "I don't watch trailers before seeing a movie" brigade, I guess.

Her Name Was Not Susan: RIP Whitney Houston

Recently, a friend and I were discussing Duffy. Remember her? Yeah, I know, I'm not sure why we were discussing her either. My friend's theory was that Duffy had to star in a film about her, but I objected... can she act? Acting in a musical biopic is obviously more than just being able to replicate a voice, and Dusty Springfield is somebody who deserves a proper film made about her. This isn't Shania, ya know. But, whether she could do an admirable job or not wasn't even really the crux of my argument. No, it was more "Who wants to see Duffy act?" Is anybody really clamouring to see the transition from recording artist to actress of someone like Duffy? I highly doubt that.

I thought of this conversation again when trying to think of something to say about one of my favourite performers and singers, Whitney Houston. She's probably one of the last singers to ever transition from music to film in such a way that the two were intrinsically linked. Aaliyah attempted it with Romeo Must Die, before being cut off too soon, but these days you've got people like Rihanna making Battleship and you have to wonder "Why?" Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake seems to desperate to never record a song ever again that he can't even be bothered to pen a theme song to something like Friends with Benefits. Whitney Houston may not have been the greatest actor, but she was surely smart enough to know this. Rather than taking on something like The Rose or Lady Sings the Blues to wet her toes in the acting pool, she smartly took on the lead role in a pulpy, pop drama The Bodyguard. The role allowed her to not only capitalise on her image as one of the world's biggest celebrities, but also allowed her to indulge in her greatest talent of all: music. The soundtrack we all know (and most of us love) would go on to beat Purple Rain as the highest selling soundtrack recording of all time and won Grammys, Oscar nominations and made Dolly Parton a bucket load of money.

I remember watching the late, great Network Ten weekend morning music program, Video Hits, and week after week the top 30 was topped by Whitney's rendition of "I Will Always Love You". It is simply impossible to forget the image of Whitney on that bare stage and the magic close up that leads into the note before revealing her surrounded by snow. It's a good thing I loved the song at the time, and I still do. That she was able to make the song feel entirely new, despite being around for decades and even appearing on film before (performed by Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), is a testament to Houston's abilities as, perhaps, the finest vocalist of my lifetime.


Whitney shares a joke at the 66th Annual Academy Awards (features Bruce Springsteen so I couldn't resist!)

Then, of course, there are "I Have Nothing", "I Run To You", "Queen of the Night" and "I'm Every Woman" that are hard to resist in the Whitney musical canon. Whitney, in 1992, had successfully merged the two mediums in a way that has barely been achieved since. One was essential for the other and it's truly hard to tell whether the film was a success because of the music or vice versa. My knowledge of box office history may not be perfect, but I think it's true that The Bodyguard was one of the first films to improve upon its excellent domestic box office with a phenomenal international haul. By accepting a role as one of the biggest stars in the world, it's hard to argue that Whitney Houston did actually become the biggest of all. At least for 1992. She succeeded where others (Mariah Carey, Britney Spears, etc) failed with a blueprint that reads too perfect to be true.

That The Bodyguard isn't even a particularly good movie speaks volumes for the spectacular level of stardom that Whitney Houston had. It took her a restrained three years to make another film, but with 1995's Waiting to Exhale she managed to trump her Bodyguard success in every creative way. The film, directed by Forrest Whitaker, is plagued with issues (literary narration, oddly-filmed sex scenes, cheap opening credits), but it is the stronger film for it's forthright discussion of issues pertinent to women and African Americans. Houston's performance is better here than The Bodyguard, but that's probably because she has such a wonderfully open ensemble around her (Angela Bassett, Loretta Divine, Lela Rochon, Dennis Haysbert amongst the recognisable faces).

It was surely revolutionary idea at the time that a film with four black women front and centre was so successful, but it was and the box office success that came with its release was vital in at least somewhat altering Hollywood's perception. 1996 saw Set It Off and 1997 was Soul Food. These were some ten years before Tyler Perry was making movies so it seems particularly sad to see people questions her the merits for honouring her as an actor and not just simply as a singer. She didn't make many films, but these two were game changers in a lot of ways. Furthermore, watching This Means War recently where a woman's entire being is about finding the right man and then seeing Houston's character play out the way it does with Houston ending up as a happy, successful single woman is particularly refreshing.

The soundtrack was not only an enormous hit - not as big as The Bodyguard, but it was a more impressive album and still replicated those big Grammy nominations like Album of the Year - but is perhaps one of the greatest albums of the 1990s. Listening to it now, with it's songs by Houston, Toni Braxton, Mary J Blige, TLC, Brandy, Aretha Franklin, Chante Moore, Sonja Marie, Chaka Khan and more, it plays like definitive look at modern R&B and makes me pine for the time when singers voices did in fact mean more and were frequently set against such slinky, sexy melodies that were impossible to resist. En Vogue, Monica, Aaliyah, Skillz, 702 are others that I love that era. The Waiting to Exhale soundtrack is a stunning album and even more impressive when you think that every song was written by one man, Babyface. His sound is no longer popular, but Whitney's contribution to it is undeniable. Curiously, it failed to garner any Best Original Song nominations at the Oscars, but the quality of the music really is its own reward.


"Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" | "Count on Me" feat CeCe Winans

I haven't seen Whitney's third and (as of today) final big screen film, The Preacher's Wife. The soundtrack may not be as strong an effort, but it does, however, reflect the gospel origins of Houston's career. The same gospel origins that she was criticised for disowning in favour of a more pop sound that resulted in boos and jeers at a 1989 awards show. The same sort of pop and house style that is so prevalent today amongst musicians of all races. As I type this Chris Brown is performing at and winning Grammy awards, and I can't help but wonder what these people who criticised Houston in her hey day for doing nothing but trying to reach as many people with her voice as possible would make of the radically quick embrace that Brown received from the industry after nearly sending Rihanna into a coma with his fists. Houston has one last film in the can, the musical remake Sparkle with Jordin Sparks. I wasn't aware they had even filmed yet, but they have and it will be interesting to see how the studio handles it. At least the soundtrack will surely be divine.


Whitney Houston contributed more to cinema than most will give her credit for. She never was the best actress, but I think she would have gotten even better if she'd kept working and hadn't been derailed by personal and professional problems. Her films helped bridge a racial divide - lest we forget The Bodyguard featured an inter-racial romance that, if I recall, was nonchalant as you can get - and proved there was an audience for films like Waiting to Exhale that paved the way for the likes of Tyler Perry. Hollywood took notice.

And then, of course, there is the rest of her music career. Filled with brilliant pop and R&B, she had the ability to make a rather innocuous song like "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" sour to unimaginable heights. Over the span of her debut and sophomore albums she had big ballads like "Saving All My Love For You", "All At Once", "Greatest Love of All" and "Didn't We Almost Have It All" that were punctuated by pulsating rhythmic club hits like "So Emotional", "How Will I Know" and "Love Will Save the Day". I'm Your Baby Tonight was like a vicious retort to those who had lamented her lack of so-called black music, and was greeted with fewer sales and less acclaim. Go figure. Three soundtracks later she released My Love is Your Love, arguably the finest album of her career. Sadly underrated, it produced some of her strongest singles and was fodder for, I think, the greatest remix ever made (that'd be the Thunderpuss mix of "It's Not Right, But It's Okay"). Subsequent albums Just Whitney and I Look To You were hit and miss, but for someone who only released five actual albums, her career was remarkably consistent. The same people who heaped scorn on her recent tour and for not being as in touch with her roots as they would prefer will hail her a legend. The rest of us, however, knew it all along.

To end, here are some of my favourite Whitney tunes. She certainly knew how to belt one out, didn't she? Just as memorable as her voice was the way she was styled. Who can forget the neon colours, massive hair and confetti bliss of the "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" clip, for instance? It was almost a certainly that we'd never get songs of this calibre again given the deterioration of her voice, but that doesn't make her death any less jarring. Her voice remains.


"It's Not Right, But It's Okay [Thunderpuss Remix]" | "When You Believe" (Live at Academy Awards with Mariah Carey)


"I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" | "I Will Always Love You"


"How Will I Know [Junior Vasquez Remix]" | "Step by Step" (backing vocals by Annie Lennox!)