Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It Came from the Depths of Geelong

I'm currently living in Geelong, about an hour down the highway from Melbourne. I grew up in this town and am residing here during the limbo time before I jet set off to live overseas - if you're new to that personal development (as in, you don't follow me on Twitter) there will obviously be more details to come, but I am not leaving you my dear readers - so it seemed almost like destiny that the local Village cinema should be playing a rare "made in Geelong" feature film on its multiplex screens. I'd first noticed it several weeks back when I walked past the open foyer on my way to a friend's dinner and I had assumed it was British, something along the lines of Run, Fat Boy, Run. Alas, I was stunned to discover that this rather terribly designed poster was actually for an Australian film. A Geelong-made film. I knew there and then that I would have to make the time to see it. I mean, I may never get the chance to see Geelong on the big screen ever again!

Not that I particularly mind, but I needed any excuse to make my cinema going decision valid. Any excuse at all.

The movie's name is Reverse Runner and it is "(p)resented by the director of The Mighty Ducks". That can only mean good things, right? Wrong. It's a sport comedy about the "alternative athletics" events that features such prestigious events as chair throwing (rather than discuss), backflipping, and the titular reverse running. Somehow the jewel in the alternative athletics crown, reverse running is a sporting endeavour that brings with it both prestige and stupidity. I don't even know how much more I need to share because, really, nobody reading this is ever going to see it. And those that already have - it apparently broke box office records in the suburb it was filmed in, which would be Colac - surely already know how bad it is.

Amateur is the word I've been predominantly using to describe this movie by Lachlan Ryan and Jarrod Theodore. Flinging insults at its terrible actors, abominable screenplay, flat and boring visuals, and nauseating score feels akin to kicking a puppy. A dumb puppy, but a puppy nonetheless. Alas, it still must be noted that Reverse Runner is an abomination of a film and really isn't even worthy of direct-to-DVD status. They must have some smart people on their marketing team to get this film in the bunch of regional cinemas that they have since it doesn't belong anywhere near them. There are laughs to be had, sure, but not the kind that the filmmakers likely desired. And I'm sure if they ever read this they will want to spark back with claims like "it's fun and innocent" or that it had "good intentions", but good intentions don't pay the bills and I would have been mightily miffed if I'd had to pay to see this. In an empty cinema mind you, without any friends to make it worthwhile.

However, therein perhaps lies Reverse Runner's secret weapon. Could Australian cinema finally have found it's own version of The Room. One can easily see crowds jazzed up on booze shouting out some of this film's most ludicrous lines. How about "Dick is funny. Dick is awesome. I LOVE DICK!" or "the only running I'm good for is runners up", or the magical "when I saw you the other day it was like you were moon walking. No, moon running." At that point the whole crowd could get up and do a synchronised dance routine of moonwalkingrunning. Instead of Tommy Wiseau's spoon-inspired madness, Reverse Runner's projectile of choice could be tube socks of headbands. I can only imagine what ridiculous lunacy crowds could invent for when one characters compares their car to a breached birth. Actually, maybe I'd rather no imagine that. Lucky that love interest Bianca Linton isn't listed on the film's IMDb page because, really, she gives Juliette Danielle a real run for her money (lol! running pun - gold star to me). Reverse Runner even has its own bizarre reverence for its home town. "BUT WHERE ARE WE" the Geelong locals could yell every time the, ahem, beloved Landy Field is featured. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Like I said, I feel somewhat bad about being so harsh on Reverse Runner, but this is even worse than your below average student feature. What's even worse is that it surely knows how crummy it is, but expects audiences to give it a free pass for a number of reasons. I've watched some really bad Australian films in my time, but most of them I can at least understand how they got released to the general public. I've also seen some terrible Aussie films that never ended up released and Reverse Runner belongs on that pile. It's only real worth is as a punching bag for drunken louts who've perhaps flung spoons at Tommy Wiseau's face one too many times. And even then it can't hold a candle. Run all right, but in the opposite direction. Yiiiikes!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Grace of Monaco, The Paperboy, and Academy GIFS - A Week is a Long Time in Kidmania

It appears that some time during yesterday's Oscar telecast - it was long, but you'd think publicists could maybe leave their copy for a day or two until the buzz had leveled off and people had time to really notice - the first official image of our beloved Nicole Kidman in Grace of Monaco was spotted on the internet. I've heard the film's title is being rejiggered to simply Grace, which would be wrong for so many, many reasons, not least of which is that it'd remind us of Ray and who needs that? Grace of Monaco - we'll keep calling it that until somebody tells us otherwise - sees Kidman play Grace Kelly, and it's a role that hasn't gone by without a few (hundred?) people taking digs at Kidman about her age, her use of botox, and her general (apparent) unpleasant demeanor. Sigh.

I suspect anybody criticising Kidman's age can never suspend belief enough long enough to believe any actor can portray a character that is a different age to their own. Kidman is 45 and the period of time that the film covers is, I think, Grace Kelly's late 30s or early 40s. Lo and behold, Kelly continued to age once her Hollywood career came to an end due to her marriage, but you wouldn't know it from people that think she continued to look as she did in Rear Window for the rest of her life. Also, it's a good thing that being an actress means having to actually, oh you know, act, or else Kidman's clearly ice cold persona would freeze us all upon one glance.

Hearing that the film has been picked up by the Weinstein Co certainly implies that there are Oscars in its future. Or at least that Harvey hopes there is. Kidman will be around a lot in 2013 what with Stoker's imminent release and the likely year end releases of both Grace of Monaco and the Australian/UK production of The Railway Man, in which she stars opposite Colin First as the, wait for it, long-suffering wife of a WWII soldier. I smell a double whammy Oscar nomination for our favourite actress. Imagine if Baz Luhrmann had actually cast her as somebody - ANYBODY - in his adaptation of The Great Gatsby? By the way, am I the only one who has to keep remembering that she is in fact not in that movie? Shame, really. Perhaps a fabulous partygoer cameo that nobody's been made privy to yet? C'mon Baz, surprise us! Well, more than you surely already will.

Of course, Kidman's 2013 has already started off strong with the local release of Lee Daniels' The Paperboy. Having now actually seen this contorting beast of a film, I can officially be on the record with undeniable anger over Kidman's lack of Oscar nomination for her Louisiana floozy, Charlotte Bless. But, then again, I also think Macy Gray should have been nominated so maybe I'm just weirdly skewed. Kidman is in rock solid form as Bless, a woman whose ambition to find the right man can only be matched by her ability to dress in bright colours, tease her hair to extravagant lengths, and tan so much she resembles fried chicken. Alongside Gray, the increasingly reliable Matthew McConaughey, and the new-and-improved Zac Efron (I'm officially on side with him, by the way), she elevates the material above and beyond the call of duty.

That's not to say, however, that The Paperboy doesn't have worthy merits outside of Kidman's sweaty wig box. Whilst much has been made of Daniels' more eye-raising decisions, like having Kidman urinate on Zac Efron and a telepathic blowjob with feral John Cusack, I wonder whether anybody has taken the time to actually decipher why they're there? Sure, Daniels is a fan of the outrageous, and The Paperboy certainly feels more like Shadowboxer than Precious, but I think these sequences of almost camp-like quality are integral to the film's overall depiction of race and racism in America.

Much like Quentin Tarantino used the form of spaghetti westerns as a way of telling a story about horrific racial tragedies, so too does Lee Daniels take one thing to tell another. Rather than westerns, Daniels takes the raw elements of film noir and erotic thrillers and triumphs in turning them into a tale of "southern-friend" American gothic. After letting audiences have their laugh at Kidman's beach-front urination and Matthew McConaughey's hog-tied threesome, he then crashes the fun times with scenes of incredibly disturbing (well, even more so than usual) rape, racism, and a confronting portraying of American values. The use of Macy Gray's narration - however curiously utilised - constantly reminds that this was a time period that African Americans may have been pushed the fringes of white society, but continued to experience life with eyes wide open. They saw all matter of horrifying things that white people committed against them and against themselves without the ability to forget. In the end, it's Lee Daniels telling the more outright disturbing tale of America's racist past, one I suspect I may find myself recalling more so than Django Unchained, and in Macy Gray's character he found his storytelling proxy.

The Paperboy obviously isn't an easy film to sit through, but then not all cinema is meant to be easy. Daniels' direction of Pete Dexter's screenplay zooms around with seeming abandon, but somehow still manages to tell an engaging murder mystery, erotic drama, and robust comedy. Aided by impeccably tailored and colourful costumes that all but have the sweat stains to emphasise their tight, body-hugging designs (unlike, say, The Sapphires, these outfits look like they've been worn more than once in a hot climate), heat-stroked production design, hair and make-up that finds a fine line between trash and (wannabe) class - I particularly enjoyed, outside of Kidman's bleached tanned barbie doll, of course, the big black housemate with taped down curls on her temples - plus luxuriously dirty 16mm cinematography that all emit the lusty, sweaty vibe of a low budget 1960s exploitation flick. Again, something Tarantino may have done, but Daniels will get next to no credit since he's working in a very different context, not to mention a very feminine one. If the messy edges and scattershot middle act that feels too stretched out with unnecessary clutter stops the film from achieving true greatness, then I'm still glad Daniels had the balls to attempt it in the first place. So few directors even think of going there let alone piss on the rug on their way to doing it.

Many audiences will be sickened by The Paperboy - when discussing it on radio last weekend the hosts were certainly not mincing words about their opinions saying it sounded terrible - but much like Kidman's unflinching devotion to Lee Daniels vision, I remain a fan of his work and his desire to not only push boundaries of taste and what can and cannot be shown on film, but pushing them in territories that many other filmmakers don't dare to tread with a wicked queer, black bent. I can only imagine the tired-eyed housekeeper played by Macy Gray would watch something like Django Unchained and cry "bitch, you ain't seen nothin'. Let me tell you a story..." Not everyone gets out of The Paperboy unharmed, but the audience doesn't either. They've been witness to something altogether strange and wild and different and that is a feeling worth cherishing. B+

Of course, if Nicole hadn't already clearly proven how amazing she is, there's also this gif from the Oscars upon the Life of Pi visual effects winners getting Jaws-ed and silenced off the stage.

Poor things, indeed, but at least they have a friend in Nicole.

Review: Exit

Dir. Marek Polgar
Country: Australia
Running Time: 90mins
Aus Rating: N/A

A subculture has emerged within the maze of a modern metropolis in Exit. A city – one that certainly looks like Melbourne (it was shot there), but is perhaps deliberately never named – that is comprised of angular architecture, walls of concrete and glass, and somewhat zombie-like office workers that drift about as if in a fog. This subculture of people live off the grid, squatting in abandoned buildings as they seek out the “exit”, a mythical doorway that will lead whichever lucky soul who discovers it away to (so they suspect) a better life away from all of their worldly troubles. Having dropped out of society, deserted their jobs, families, and friends along the way, they attempt to navigate the so-called maze, trying not to get lost with one mere wrong turn. Oh sure, their bodies exist within the world, but they go by more or less unnoticed as they slink down graffiti-sprayed alleyways, through vacant office skyscrapers, and even through busy streets as they attempt to solve the vague clues (clues that may have conjured up out of thin air) without going the wrong way.

Read the rest at Onya Magazine

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I'm So Excited (About Movie Posters)!

Colour me surprised, but I continue to be enamored by many of the film posters that are coming down the assembly line this year. In stark contrast to 2012 where it seemed barely anything grabbed my attention, this year has already seen a swag of designs that will be fighting it out for best of the year honours, and many more that will surely find a ranking amongst my coveted (er, let's just say it is coveted for the sake of argument, okay?) top 50 list's higher rankings.

As if it wasn't enough that 2013 has already given us the elegant calligraphy of The Wolverine, the whimsical knitted print of Sightseers, the creepy identity reflections of Stoker, the abstract concept of Spring Breakers, the sleek black of Elles, the spangly sparkles of The Great Gatsby, the wink of Side Effects, the gumption of Evil Dead, the upclose retro of Simon Killer, the gruesome discoveries of Texas Chainsaw 3D... this has been an exciting year for sure, and it just keeps getting better with a bunch of new posters from the last couple of weeks keeping my eyes perked up.

Loving these two designs for Pedro Almodovar's latest, and a supposed return to his more scrappy, flamboyant comic past. The first for its wild, loud, boisterous colour palate and boxy, silhouetted imagery that looks like Saul Bass goes to the gay and lesbian Mardi Gras. The second, however, is just a wonderfully smile-inducing premise. A three-tiered airplane, you say? Sure, why not? I could have done with the typeface looking less like an afterthought - wouldn't some sort of scribbled lipstick have done the trick? - but I can forgive that because it doesn't exactly turn me off seeing the film. So, basically, a job well done right there.

Two posters with a Japanese connection: The first is for Women of Fukushima, a documentary (although I don't think it's Japanese) about women affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, whilst the second is a Japanese poster for Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. The latter is obviously a national twist on the original domestic poster with its redacted title, which I listed amongst 2012's best posters. I like the Japanese edition for no other reason than I'll prefer almost any design that eliminates so much empty space, and I also like the streaked look of the Japanese poster. The former, however, is harder to pinpoint. I think it's visually a very eye-catching design through its repeated use of the Japanese national flag and the randomly places images of the titular women. They are Japan in a way. It also reminds me of the poster for Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which is never a bad thing.

This British quad for Carlos Reygadas' Post Tenebras Lux reminds me a great deal of this poster for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. So much so that I figured they were by the same designer, but turns out I was wrong. This 2013 poster is by Sam Smith, who is the man behind two other fabulous posters: this super retro piece for Carlos and this black-and-blue poster for Elena. Only three designs to his name at IMP and yet three doozies. I adore the colour scheme that's been used, the intriguing shapes and patterns that have been combined, and the way it truly looks like art.

I do like that truly independent features are choosing to steer more and more towards this hand-drawn aesthetic. I think it works better in capturing the eye in a way that some flat movie still ever could. The design for Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess actually appears to be a hybrid of sorts, but it works in much the same way. In fact, the mix of the crafty computer and the more human foreground gives it a less cartoonish look that is a great way of allowing the film to not look simply like a joke that all those period-style spectacles could have given it the perception of being. This festival poster for White Reindeer, however, uses a style that is becoming incredibly popular, but thankfully not too overdone. I appreciate the delicate colours and that font is divine. I'm not sure if it's the correct one, but I'm definitely getting a vibe of this poster that's making me want to experience the movie. Lastly of this mini-cluster is Rewind This!, which I can only imagine is a documentary about the heady days of VHS. Certainly the execution leaves a bit to be desired, and it's clearly just aping the style of all of these type of films (hello Not Quite Hollywood), but I like it nonetheless. It's fun and tickles the nostalgia part of my brain just enough to succeed.

The last batch of posters is an eclectic one. This design for A Teacher is creepy with an increasing sense of unease, plus an obvious illusion to this startling design for We Need to Talk About Kevin from two years back. Consciously, I'm sure. That the striking, evocative, watercolour-inspired poster for Kiss of the Damned comes from the mind of Akiko Stehrenberger should come as no surprise. She was behind the posters for Funny Games (ya know, the best poster of the '00s), Casa de mi Padre, and Father's Day amongst a few others. I maybe could have done without the faces in the hair, but the rest is still so fantastic that it doesn't bother me as it would on most others. Lastly, as for this poster for Danny Boyle's Trance? Well, I think I'm in the minority here, but I love this concept. It's a somewhat different take on material that could have been otherwise easy to go in a really dull direction with. Sure, I can't really make out who it is behind all of the interference, but isn't that one of the ideas behind the movie? Not being able to make heads or tails of what's going on? Maybe I'm wrong, but...

Of course, all things being equal, there must be some bad ones to go alongside them. And boy have there been! I'll keep it to a minimum of six since we're not here all day and looking at bad movie posters is actually not all that fun in big doses.

Guys, I just can't with the retina-burning red mess of The Call, the mish-mash of hopeless key art cliches of If I Were You, and the flat-out boring, stripped down Liberal Arts rehash of Middleton. Regarding The Call though, can I direct you to one of the funniest tweets I've seen all week? I laughed a lot when I read it on Twitter and then laughed even heartier when I saw Nathaniel at The Film Experience give it an entire entry! I hadn't seen anything about this movie until this poster and now that I've gone and watched the trailer I'm almost looking forward to it in an Ab(s)duction kinda way. Remember Ab(s)duction? I mean, look at Halle's hair! This is retro '90s ludicrous thriller home base.

I'd just like to point out the disappointing irony of a documentary about the one and only Drew Struzan (will he be come out of retirement for the new Star Wars films?) getting such a dull poster like the one below? Also, I know Twitter quotes have been used on film posters for at least a year now, but perhaps using one that so highlights the word "SHIT!" wasn't the best way to go for Down and Dangerous. Lastly, Robert Redford should fire whoever approved that poster for his new movie, The Company You Keep. I admire them no just shoving every recognisable actor's face on there in a desperate attempt to get people to go, but yeesh... Shia LeBeouf and Redford look terrible.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Battle of the Bride and Bridesmaids

Consider Kirsten Dunst in the lead.

Dunst, whom we affectionately nicknamed Kiki long before the Scissor Sisters ever decided to sing about such things, and Australian actor Rose Byrne have both recently made twin movies wherein they have played both bride and bridesmaid. It's a curious quirk that can surely be whittled down to the fact that, well, those filmmaker types clearly love weddings so it makes sense that they keep making them the focus of their films. The two featured alongside one another in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette, but I felt as if they'd worked together on something else. I guess not. Perhaps its their ability to exhibit fake niceness so wonderfully - something they both used to the benefits of Bridesmaids (for Byrne) and Bachelorette (for Dunst). They made a wonderful pair of giggling princesses in Marie Antoinette that I can only imagine how entertaining it would be to see them a movie of Bridesmaids' or Bachelorette's type.

Dunst's two films, Melancholia and the aforementioned Bachelorette, would actually make for a fascinating double. Lars Von Trier's stunning examination of a woman on the verge of (and, secondly, in the throws of) a mental breakdown would be surprisingly well-paired with Leslye Headland's tart, ice-cold comedy about modern day female friendships and crumbling self-worth. Both present fairly bleak representations of people, and are films probably better aimed at people who share a similarly dark-skied approach to the world.

Byrne on the other hand... well, Bridesmaids is fantastic and Byrne was, I felt, actually quite stellar in her broadly painted role of rich newly-minted BFF of the bride. I'd have nominated her for supporting actress prizes over Melissa McCarthy's more showy Oscar-nominated one. However, it's a shame that her new romantic comedy I Give It a Year (out in Australia next week) is such an appalling mess, because I actually think it has a fresh element in its plot that is sadly never utilised in any way that is at all entertaining to watch (rather embarrassing to endure). The idea of following a romance from after the wedding day is at least novel in the world of rom-coms, but by allowing its characters to wallow in traditional genre tropes and cliches - tropes and cliches that are done far worse here than, say, 27 Dresses, which may be formulaic, but at least it goes about it in a somewhat fun fashion - only digs writer/director Dan Mazer's grave faster.

Of course, it gets off on entirely the wrong foot to begin with with a wedding scene that takes the concept of awkward to grand new heights. It's in these initial scenes where the film's tone is all but carved in marble and rarely does it deviate. Punching at the same barely interesting spot with frequently low blows, I Give It a Year is 100 minutes of solid tedium. That is, however, whenever it's not being out and out horribly directed. Any director who is able to turn Anna Faris into a personality free zone deserves more than a mere slap on the wrist, and anybody who thinks casting Simon Baker as a lothario "stud" really doesn't understand the definition of the word. Add in the quite frankly disgusting personalities of its lead couple - Byrne and Rafe Spall, who's certainly cute but is a repetitious, unfunny version of the "everyman" we're supposed to be cheering for - frightful supporting roles by Olivia Colman and Stephen Merchant (I haven't seen Movie 43, but I worry if it's truly as bad as they say), lacklustre romance subplots, and a complete and utter lack of forward momentum turn I Give It a Year in a bona fide train wreck of embarrassing can't watch filmmaking.

This is Dan Mazer's first directorial effort and it's slightly suprising given his history with Sacha Baron Cohen. I would have thought that being in the crew that created Ali G, Borat, and Bruno would have afforded him some idea of tone and comedic pacing (or not if you're non-fans of Cohen's shtick), but it's all wrong from the very get go. One scene in particular, a dinner party that (unsurprisingly) turns into an awkward farce, is a particular bellwether of his inabilities to give a scene rhythm or flow. His actors are drowning and its awful to watch. Not to mention unimaginatively filmed, too, laced in flat colours and lazy framing. It's as hopelessly flaccid as the marriage at its centre, and it's a damned shame it had to take down all these good actors in the process. Wastes Minnie Driver, too - yet another cliche that Dan Mazer is all too ready to adhere to. D-

"I win!"

Don't be too sad, Rose! We'll always have Wilson Phillips' "Hold On".

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gods & Mothers

"They're beautiful... they're like Gods."

So says Robin Wright in the newly released French trailer for Two Mothers (or Perfect Mothers, quite comically given the context, as it's known in France). Directed by Anne Fontaine, it's a French and Australian co-production, set in Australia, and follows two best friends and mothers who begin elicit affairs with each others' teen son. Word out of its premiere at Sundance was iffy to the say the least, but there's enough in the trailer here to keep me interested. I mean, the dialogue is a bit on the nose - especially whenever these two women discuss their children in awe-struck hyperbole - but I like the fact that there's a movie primarily about two middle-aged women (TWO!) and that the sexual gaze of the film appears to be directed at the lithe young men they sex up and down the coast (that'd be Xavier Samuel and Animal Kingdom's James Frencheville). Obviously the film is very much saying these two women are incredible sexy - I trust Fontaine and screenwriter Christopher Hampton are wise enough to not have a big-haired co-worker of one of these characters call the other a "cougar", right? - but the camera does indeed appear to linger on the bodies of the boys more so than the ladies. We're not complaining.

And it's always nice to see Naomi Watts on screen, and this time she's dug her Australian accent out of that box in the attic she had stored it away in. I can already see myself screaming at the cinema for this film to "BE MORE CAMP!" which may be a problem since it appears to be trying very hard to skirt the issue of its own ridiculousness, but we'll wait and see. Gary Sweet (heard, not seen) saying words like "It's just you two and those boys. That's not really healthy, is it?" gives me hope for some weird Whatever Happened to Baby Jane insanity. And, who knows, maybe the head-shakers out of Utah were just fussy old men who don't like the idea of two sexual women choosing nubile younger men in a flip on traditional expectations in any movie involving men.

Of course, there's also this:

I am a-okay with watching this guy cavort around without clothes on. A. Okay.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Anna Karenina: Drowning in Diamonds and Lace

I have to admire the gumption of Universal Pictures releasing Anna Karenina on Valentine's Day. The cheek of them to con romantic audiences, that really ought to know better, into seeing a film on "the most romantic day of the year" in which failed love dooms a woman to madness makes me smile like a Bond villain. I mean, hello, Anna Karenina's obsessions, drug addiction, and paranoia lead her to a rather untimely end underneath a steam train! So, really, just the sort of thing to get you in the mood. In the days after seeing Anna Karenina these loved up couples will be staring at their vase of dying roses and I can't think of anything more appropriate for an invented day of such commercial leanings.

I admire Joe Wright greatly. I think he is capable of truly wonderful cinema and, in some sort of way, he has done for the so-called "stuffy period piece" what the collaborations between Ismail Merchant and James Ivory (and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who gets somewhat ignored) did nearly 30 years ago with A Room with a View, Maurice, The Remains of the Day, and Howards End. Of course, these are the very "stuffy period piece" films that many think Wright is updating for modern audiences. Many forget how fresh and alive that Merchant Ivory were at the time, and still are. Still, it's hard to argue that Wright at least turns them up to eleven and has been doing so since Pride & Prejudice in 2005, which remains his greatest achievement so far. Atonement and now Anna Karenina are undoubtedly flawed, but their energy and verve are almost unparalleled by modern filmmakers. They have gumption - there's that word again, which is odd since I so rarely actually use it - where others may consider resting on their laurels. If Anna Karenina is the weakest of Wright's unofficial trilogy, then he certainly attempts to reach for something truly grand in the process.

If anything, I wished Anna Karenina - all 130 minutes of it, which takes a cleaver to Tolstoy's original text from what I can gather - had been even more over the top. It is lavishly produced, that's for sure, and it's hard to deny that the Oscar nominated costumes (Jacqueline Durran), production design (Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer), cinematography (Seamus McGarvey), and music (Dario Marianelli) are exceptional and exquisite (all five have been nominated/won for prior Joe Wright titles), but Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard appear to have held back when they should have been pushing forward, much like the films reoccurring locomotive. The film sets up the device of Anna's life being all a big show for the world's stage by using a theatre set-up that includes rotating sets, doors leading to exotic locales, a backstage lot where some of the truest of feelings are felt, and the stalls which frequently sit both onlookers are miscellaneous others. However, the film all too often ditches its concept for more traditional storytelling and the juxtaposition is jarring. Where one scene sees stagehands moving props and lighting the set for the latest of Anna's opulent get-togethers, the next scene is seemingly played out in a room off-stage. It's as if they suspected fully committing to the idea would be too much for audiences who were probably already trying to wrap their minds around the dense plot.

Every feather, fur, and a lace-lined gown is so delicately placed with stunning jewels and an array of hats fit for the racing season (apt, too, given one of the film's stand out sequences is an on-stage horse face), with chandeliers and mahogany filling out most rooms of the Karenina mansion. There's a richness to the entire production that is hard to resist, plus I even found myself somewhat attracted to Aaron Taylor-Johnson and his mop of blonde hair and thin moustache. That's certainly something I didn't expect from the promotional material. I would have liked the relationship between Anna and Jude Law's Alexie to be more illuminating, however, since it proves hard to root for the tempestuous Anna when her husband seems like a perfectly honourable man (in the grand scheme of things). Especially since Law is doing some really fine work here, but apart from a bedside ultimatum, he so rarely gets the chance to show off like everybody is doing.

If anything, Anna Karenina made me think even higher of Pride & Prejudice. I didn't think that possible, and yet here I am doing so. That film is a marvel of vitality with a fresh take on the material. Anna Karenina is certainly a new conception of the famous Tolstoy story, but it appears to not have enough conviction in its boldness to carry it through for the entire length of the film. This period of aristocratic Russian history is certainly a tailor-made toybox for Wright and Knightley to play about in, but they needed to go harder with their ideas to make a finished product that's as invigorating as they all think it is. B

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Naomi and David, Tied to Mulholland Drive

For as long as Naomi Watts is an actress, David Lynch's magnum opus Mulholland Drive will continue to be referenced. It's incredible, the consistency with Watts' break-through role in Mulholland Drive from 2001 comes up in interviews with the actress. She's currently on screen in The Impossible, the somewhat problematic retelling of one family's ordeal in the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2006, and in the video below she discusses making the film alongside the real life woman she is portraying. And yet in between all the talk of how strong this woman and her family were, how literally breathtaking it was to film in giant water tanks day after day, there appears Mulholland Drive (and Nicole Kidman, another consistent go-to subject in Naomi interviews).

"She kept saying 'it's just gonna take one thing. One thing, Na'. You know, if you're in a hit film, or... you know, everything changes.' And that's what happened. She was right."
"The film? David Lynch's Mulholland Drive."

Of course she was right, Naomi. She's NICOLE KIDMAN, HELLO!

Lynch's film is not just my favourite of the last decade, but also one of the best films I have ever seen, period. Every time I rewatch it I become enamoured with it all over again. Wrapped up in its Hollywood magic as Angelo Badalamenti's slinky score envelopes the Hollywood Hills. I've often wondered where the story of that film, and the story of Watt's career for that matter, would have gone if the project had remained as a television series like originally planned. Of course, saying that, the final product is so incredible that I (doubt) I'd have it any other way. And as long as Watts continues to be interviewed by the press (and given her upcoming role as Princess Diana, it's hard to imagine she won't anytime soon) they will keep bringing up that fabulous movie and I'll continue to smile each and every time. May just one person discover it and become forever entangled with the world of David Lynch, just like I was.

For what it's worth, I'd never heard the anecdote that Watts imparts as she discusses her role in Peter Jackson's King Kong. You will have to watch the video in order to hear the following quote with her impressive Lynch impersonation, but he apparently said to her: "Naomi, anyone who sits in the hand of King Kong is a movie star for life." While "life" is a very long time, and in regards to Jackson's version of King Kong it sure felt like a lifetime sitting in the cinema, I like the sentiment. That David Lynch is too good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's It Worth

Many years ago I purchased 1001 Movies to See Before You Die. If you don't personally own a copy (or two, given the multiple editions that have come out since its 2004 printing), you may surely know of it given its tome-like length and grabby title. I don't use it as bible regarding films I should or should not see, but ever since I received it as a Christmas present back in the mid-200s, I have kept tabs on all the films featured within it that I have seen. I don't think one can simply see a certain list of per-ordained films and suddenly think they've seen all that cinema has to offer. Nor does seeing those 1001 films mean that they are instantly smarter or know anything about actually reading and understanding the films they just watched. Hell, I think there's probably more to learn about cinema from Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls than anything in Mike Newell's Four Weddings and a Funeral, but there are some who don't quite see things the same way. I couldn't tell you the exact number that I have seen - I'd estimate more than 400, less than 500 - but there are films found inside it that I thought were brilliant, and those I thought were terrible. Some I have noted as needing to revisit when my brain is better equipped to truly understand them better, and some that I can't possibly imagine being anywhere near the powerful examples of cinema that the book's contributors suggest. Still, follow it I shall.

Meanwhile there are films missing that seem like baffling oversights. I mean, they had 1001 slots and they chose Deconstructing Harry? Why just last week I watched Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom and was surprised afterwards to find only the latter of the two featured within the pages, despite decades of history having proven that the former is as thematically potent as anything else from that period. It was equally surprising then to discover William Wyler's Dodsworth from 1936 hidden amongst its pages. A film that I had wanted to see for many a year - its availability is somewhat sketchy - and finally got around to doing just last night, Dodsworth is a lavishly assembled adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' acclaimed novel. It won an Academy Award for art direction, and was nominated for many more included Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. As fine as the film is - and fine is, surely, too understated a word - it is not a film that is as frequently hailed as its 1930s siblings, and for all of its strengths (such as the way Ruth Chatterton forces audiences to see the reason behind such a wantonly unappealing lady, or the free-flowing ease with witch Sidney Howard's screenplay examines a crumbling marriage) perhaps doesn't overtly scream out as a vital piece of filmmaking that begs for essential status.

Perhaps its the legacy of director Wyler and a cast that includes the Oscar-nominated Walter Huston, as well as Mary Astor and David Niven, that made for its inclusion in the book. It's certainly refreshing to see what is essentially a marital drama placed alongside such heavy-hitting classics, a film of such feminine qualities and yet one that primarily tells a man's tale. If the journey of these two yammering marrieds feels episodic then that's surely just a product of the time when famous book adaptations were hardly the place for radical flights of filmmaking fancy. It's an enjoyable film, and one that makes great use out of the Ruth Chatterton character as she spins from doting wife with understandable dreams to travel abroad and experience life to then a ravenous, selfish society-pecker, and somewhat back again. If the performance has too many scenes of single mindedness, then Chatterton is certainly given some meat to chew on in her big confrontation scene with Maria Ouspenskaya's Baroness Von Obersforf that kicks into the gear Dodsworth's final act.

Which brings me to Ouspenskaya. Call me baffled, but how on Earth was this Russian lady nominated for an Oscar for this performance. I can certainly see the appeal in the character - an aged lioness whom seemingly does little but inform woman that they're not good enough for her son and, here's the kicker, they too are getting old. She's a mother only a son could love, I suppose. And even then... Still, the performance is brief and singularly toned. I'd hazard a guess and she's she's barely on screen for five minutes and without any of the range of, say, Viola Davis in Doubt (or Viola Davis in Antwone Fisher, or Viola Davis in World Trade Center for that matter). Or even Beatrice Straight in Network for that matter, although that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish wouldn't you agree?

I'm not quite sure why some song about mother-in-laws has been put over the top of this clip, but it thankfully stops soon enough.

Ouspenskaya enters the film looking practically embalmed, swathed in black fabric and hanging a crucifix on her neck that would scare Catholics three ways from Sunday. The Academy was certainly fond of this type of craggily old aristocratic ladies who don't seem to do much other than act like they're above it all. Stinkylulu's supporting actress round table has certainly taught me that, although they generally all came down somewhere in the middle over Ouspenskaya's particularly rendition of the role. And as I've already said, given Chatterton is doing some marvellous things in the scene directly opposite her, it's amazing they could focus on Ouspenskaya's black widow. Alas. It's strange for a scene in any film to have one of the best and the worst performances going on at the very same time, but Dodsworth appears to manage that feat. So, er, congratulations some 77 years later. The rest of the film is just aces though.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Short Stuff

I find judging short films difficult. A lot of the time I enjoy them greatly, but rarely do they leave me with much of a lasting impression, which makes it hard to gauge where I stand on them. As a result I don't watch all that many and am probably missing out on a lot of great work by up-and-coming filmmakers, but it's still a medium I find tricky to get myself enthused over, especially when the ones I do get to see - like Nathaniel Krause's Double or Nothing, scripted by Neil LaBute, which screened at the most recent Melbourne International Film Festival - are entirely terrible. I am keenly aware that there are short feature films out there that are marvellous, but rarely do I find they have the blissful self-contained energy of Stuart McDonald's Stranded, or Todd Haynes' Dottie Gets Spanked. Too often I watch one and just wish it had been expanded into a feature because so often they feel unfinished. But, hey, maybe that's just me.

I have much greater patience, however, for animated shorts. I suspect that has something to do with animation's roots being vested in the shortened form, but also because animated shorts are so often a playground for some truly dazzling, marvellous, and experimental work by talents with voices that might not necessarily fit into the preconceived box of mainstream animation features. I have absolutely loved the likes of French corporation satire Logorama, Australian 7-minute ode to gastric excess in Carnivore Reflux, and the imaginatively designed shadowplay of The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello amongst others. This year's crop of animated shorts have delivered some nice entries, although I haven't been able to see Adam and Dog or Head Over Heels.

Disney's Paperman and Fox's Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare' are probably the two most will have seen given they played before Wreck-It Ralph and Ice Age 4 respectively, but while the latter is cute, if unremarkable, the former is beguiling and magical. Of course, it bares a striking resemblance to an Australian short titled Signs, which was directed by Patrick Hughes some four or five years ago. I had enjoyed Hughes' feature debut Red Hill, but that's an entirely different enterprise to Signs, which sees two people (including Wolf Creek's Kestie Morassi, and Nick Russell) as office workers seeking a connection from behind glass windows. Of course, whereas Signs is lovely, it doesn't feel like it's pushing anything or doing anything unique with the form, which I think the wonderful mix of animations in Paperman succeeds. Again, maybe just my own prejudices preferring animation to live action, but there you go.


My favourite of the few Oscar nominees that I have seen, however, is Fresh Guacamole by an artist known as PES (aka Adam Pesapane). He tends to make extremely short (one to three minutes in length) works and uses everyday items and plasticine with a stop-motion style to create his incredibly inventive pieces. I'm not sure how his films qualify for Oscar since, at least in Fresh Guacamole's case it's barely two minutes long, but I'm glad that he's received recognition this year. His work as an almost Svankmajer like quality that recalls the choppy Alice (which I watched for the first time a few weeks back and was quietly stunned by). Guacamole, as it is, is a sort of sequel to Western Spaghetti, but that doesn't make it any less invigorating and his works are so much fun to watch and it's so very easy to find yourself in a YouTube wormhole of his works.

"Fresh Guacamole" | "Western Spaghetti"

"Roof Sex" | "Game Over"

Which are your favourites?

Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty
Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Country: USA
Aus Rating: MA15+
Running Time: 157mins

Sometimes it can feel as if we have already seen a film before we actually sit down and watch it. A lot of the more politically-minded viewers will already have opinions on the American military’s methods in hunting down Osama Bin Laden and the rhetoric around Zero Dark Thirty, the first film from Kathryn Bigelow since she made history at the Academy Awards with The Hurt Locker, would imply it’s a hostile one. The debate as to whether portraying horrific acts, specifically torture, is classed as endorsing it has somehow taken wind and become the lead talking point (especially odd since surely nobody would suggest Argo endorses military coups, or that Django Unchained endorses violent revenge, no matter how racist the person may be), and it has distracted many from discussing the film on any other level.

Read the rest at Trespass Magazine

Terence Stamp's Crotch Will Turn You Loco

Don't get me wrong, there's much more to Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1968 film Teorema (also known as Theorem) than "Terence Stamp's crotch will turn you loco", but that really does appear to the overriding theme of the picture. Terence Stamp's groin is framed so often by Pasolini's camera that it should have its own on-screen credit! Pasolini's film not only has the mysterious Stamp (mysterious in character, mysterious in why-does-this-movie-have-Terence-Stamp?) appear like a cat amongst the pigeons of this bourgeois, well-to-do Italian family and disappear just as quickly, but he leaves a trail of destruction (so to speak) that alters everybody for the rest of their lives. Even if Terence Stamp's crotch doesn't make you loco, it will apparently lead you to your destiny. Terence Stamp's dick is magic, apparently.

The internet informs me that Teorema has a lot of meanings, but the two I took away from it are this:

1) Pasolini is telling an almost cautionary tale to the Italian - global? - bourgeois (they do use that word a lot) that they, too, are susceptible to beings or entities that could bring about their downfall, just as they so frequently cluck about their poorer fellows a class category or two beneath them. Terence Stamp's character could represent all manner of things, but the way they respond to this man (each and every family member PLUS the maid! See, Stamp's crotch is like a magicians' hypnosis) is so beneath their class and the film examines the way these type of people respond once they realise they're actually more alike to these subordinate humans than they care to admit.

2) Pasolini's grappling with the double-edged sword that is his homosexuality. Notice the two men in the family both have very polar opposite reactions. The son uses the pain of this mystery man's brief encounter to dive headfirst into the world of art and to find his voice, whereas the father discovers the perhaps long dormant feelings lead to a lot of doubting, second guessing, and loneliness. It is as if Pasolini is admitting that his homosexuality lead to him being the talented filmmaker that he is, whilst also leading him down a path of torment that goes against his (I presume) religious upbringing and godly beliefs. It was probably ironic to the Italian director that he would be murdered by a gay hustler.

Of course, if you believe the Silvana Mangano way then Terrence Stamp's dick just makes you become a bed-hopping lover of gigolo street walkers. That's certainly one way of coping with the loss.

I also watched Pasolini's more famous (infamous?) Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom for the very first time. It was something I had to psych myself into given its reputation, and yet it may have been that reputation that lead to me being somewhat underwhelmed by it. The film is horrific, of course, but the acts of depravity in the final two acts - "circle of shit" and "circle of blood" pretty much sum that up - didn't strike me quite as gag-inducing as I'd expected. It's curious: was I watching the reputation or the film? Hard to tell. I certainly think the film's dated production values during the final act made it easier to watch nowadays than it would have in 1975 (all those fake tongues and scalps aren't a slight on the film, just a bi-product of a film that is nearly 40 years old), and I do think the third act's extravagant nature made its Babette's Feast-meets-Pink Flamingos antics less of a stomach churning experience. If anything, the film's message has, by that stage, well and truly been made, and that Pasolini's reveling in the horrific actions just dilutes them. Or maybe my brain just wanted them to stop and is creating a critical excuse for it. I'm not sure, but I'll definitely think twice about eating anything brown for a few days!

If the film has an MVP then it is the production design of Dante Ferretti, who would go on to win three Oscars for his work with Martin Scorsese (The Aviator and Hugo) and Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street). They seem so far away from the haunting prison-like den rooms of the Salò mansion, but the work speaks of a designer with a keen eye for how to balance subject matter with visual design.

I'm certainly glad I finally got around to watching this film, and I definitely think it's an important one in many regards. I don't suspect it's a film I care to dwell on too often, but it's the sort of film that will prove beneficial to have seen in rather unsuspecting ways in the future.