Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Do These Actresses Have In Common

Nicole Kidman
Rachel Weisz
Jessica Chastain
Vera Farmiga
Samantha Morton
Laura Dern
Cate Blanchett
Anne Heche
Emily Watson
Winona Ryder
Melanie Lynskey
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Laura Linney
Kerry Washington

They'd surely all be better choices for the role of Lady Macbeth in the new Justin Kurzel/Michael Fassbender adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth than Natalie Portman. Natalie Portman. Really. I like Natalie Portman so I probably shouldn't be as perturbed by her casting here than I am, but I just find it a bit disappointing. So many actresses - many of them notoriously "tricky" or "cold" - that would have worked far better as the famed Lady. I mean, can you imagine someone like Anne Heche or Winona Ryder getting a meaty role to really dig into after all of this time? Or the perhaps more obviously choices above, like Kidman or Chastain who have played cold so very well in the past. As I said yesterday, doesn't it feel like Kidman has been auditioning for the part for a decade? In fact, several of the actors above have acted in roles that were disguised (barely even that if you consider Linney in Mystic River) variations on the part in other movies.

Look, I'm not going write Natalie off just yet, but it's a little bit disappointing is all. I'd still be eager to see what Kurzel and Fassbender do with the property even if they'd cast somebody entirely inappropriate like, say, Emma Watson. Now, can you imagine that? Admittedly, Portman will have more of a chance for success if the adaptation is set in the present day; period fare has seen her flounder more than once. Nevertheless, this continues to be a curious project to follow.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Sing it Again

When I heard that Hollywood is planning to make a new version of famed Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, my reaction wasn't the usual series of sighs and hurrumphs that usually greet these sort of announcements. Three reasons, mostly. Firstly, any musical - especially one with big stars (supposedly) attached - is good news because it means another year will go by without the genre fading off into obscurity. Secondly, the 1955 adaptation with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra is not a particularly good film. Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, is that Broadway has in essence been remaking their own product for years.

I'd love to see a film version of the Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows musical from 1950 and I'd hate to see the prospect of us getting one vanish just because of the internet's precious mentality to remakes. The film version by Joseph Mankiewicz is just not that good - and not only that, but it's missing up to five songs from the Loesser score and features a miscast Brando. That the film was only nominated for four technical Oscars speaks volumes given these sort of bloated (150 minutes! And I felt every minute of it) musicals were quite popular at the time.

I'm a bit confused by the reports that Channing Tatum is being sought for the Nathan Detroit role and Joseph Gordon-Levitt for Sky Masterson given they seem to be around the wrong way. Maybe that's just a quirk of the rumour mill and that they're meant to be other way around. I hope they are, anyway, since - give or take Tatum's singing abilities, which until now have never been discussed as much as his dancing - it'll surely be distracting. Of course, it's all just rumours at this stage and maybe it will never happen, but if it starts people thinking about "remaking" other properties that maybe weren't given the best treatment (think of the trouble they've had though trying to get another My Fair Lady produced).

And, yes:

Chance Has Michael Fassbender as Macbeth

We wake up to the strangest news sometimes, huh? Today's never-saw-that-coming bit of film news is that Justin Kurzel is directing a new version of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. Yeah, okay, sure. Why not, hey? 

Kurzel is the Australian director behind Snowtown (known as The Snowtown Murders in the United States when released last year) and had previously been linked to a new John Le Carre adaptation on the heels of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but there appears to be no update on that and he has since taken up the reigns of another Macbeth. Given Snowtown's disturbing visual palate, it'd be understandable to expect a take perhaps similar to that of Roman Polanski's muddy and moody edition of the 1970s. With Fassbender as star, it's obvious the production will be a hot property and it's nice to see that the Australian funding bodies have gotten over whatever issue they had with The King's Speech, which came from the same Australian production house. Screen Australia lost the opportunity to have the future Oscar-winner listed as an official Australian-UK co-production and are no doubt still miffed that they decided that project wasn't "Australian enough" (or whatever silly excuse they had). Maybe the Australian director was the tipping point for them.

It's not lost on me, however, the curious symmetry that this project appears to have with another Australian adaptation of Macbeth. Given Kurzel's Snowtown ranks alongside Geoffrey Wright's Romper Stomper as one of the more disturbing Australian features ever made, it's interesting that both directors then went on to adapt Shakespeare's famed play. Wright's version has a reputation as a catastrophic disaster of bad taste, but I admire its insane goofiness, the outlandish costumes and sets (winner of the AFI Award, each), and the performance of briefly prolific Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth. Wright hasn't written or directed anything since, probably a result of the reaction (both personally and professionally) to the Sam Worthington vehicle from 2006.

Given this new version will be coming from the same producers as The King's Speech, Shame, and Hunger, and star Fassbender, the project will obviously come with a higher pedigree. No word yet on who Lady Macbeth will be, but the Screen Daily article says they are in talks with a high profile contender. Is it too much to ask for Nicole Kidman? She's spent so long giving performances that could legitimately act as auditions for one of the biggest female stage roles imaginable that maybe she should just bite the bullet and play the part. Hmmm, we'll see. Also: if Fassbender wants to follow Worthington's path and go naked for the part then, by all means, go ahead. I look forward to more news coming out about the project simply for the sake of posting pictures like this.

Yes, you really can get used to looking at him, can't you?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Birth of an Unknown Woman

If I were to be the owner of a grand repertory cinema with the ability to curate and put on double features of my choice, I think I found a perfect evening for my patrons. It would be a double feature dedicated to the greatest of all niche genres, "women who lie to themselves", and would feature Max Ophuls' 1948 tragic romance Letter from an Unknown Woman and Jonathan Glazer's reincarnatory love story Birth. The two films really, truly feel as if they couldn't be more dissimilar to one another, and yet as I sat in the Museum of Modern Art watching a 35mm print of Ophuls' seemingly overlooked drama I couldn't help but think the two films, separated by some 56 years of history, were peas in a pod.

It's a beautiful film, for sure, on a visual and dramatic level. The story of a famous pianist who receives a mysterious letter from a woman who claims to have loved him for her entire life only to have been turned away because he was too blind to see who she was. Of course, the tragedy becomes twofold for reasons that seem rather obvious from the opening scene, but that's neither here nor there. For somebody who is notoriously fickle with the tears they shed, I did get quite a bit misty-eyed of Unknown Woman with its delicately fragile lead performance by Joan Fontaine (we were just have a laugh with her last week!) and her tale of operatic woe. The cinematography of Franz Planer is gorgeous with its beautiful rendering of snow and shadow. My particular favourite shot it that overhead shot of Fontaine's "unknown woman" walking away her body casts a shadow as long as her gloom. Just divine.

But where the connection to Birth comes in is remarkable. The films share so much and yet it was something that I only noticed when Unknown Woman, which I had obviously never seen before, utilised the scene of an opera in a very similar way to Glazer's. As Fontaine's Lisa takes her seat to watch Mozart's The Magic Flute, she has just been confronted with the realisation that her one true love has returned. Whilst not quite in the same mysterious fashion as the situation that confronts Nicole Kidman's character in Birth, but the two characters wrestle with their feelings as the power of the music wash over them. It's remarkable how similar the scenes and the character motivations behind them are. Sadly, we are not treated to a masterful three-minute sequence of beguiling close-up in Letter from the Unknown Woman like we are in Birth - I suppose this very mainstream-leaning romance film wasn't quite the place for such a visual move in 1940s Hollywood - but the effect is one and the same. It works.

Image source, FIPRESCI
From there, the two films felt like nothing less than sisters. The stories of Fontaine's Lisa and Kidman's Anne seemingly etched together as they each emerge out of the intimidating shadow of the men who took their former flame's place and decide to persue something that seems foolhardy and destined for failure, but which neither women can truly come to terms with until it's staring them blankly in the face. Both women go to personally tragic places in order to be with the love of their life, only to have it suggested by the man himself that it wasn't that all along. They mourn very obviously on the inside, harbouring long-gestating pain within them, while putting on an external face of strength. And even though the man at the centre of Unknown Woman is obviously a very dashing, handsome man, and the boy at the centre of Birth is, well, a boy, both stories tell a very salient point on what the idea of an all-encompassing love can do to us in the long term if it is interrupted by the natural order of things. Funnily enough, in Unknown Woman the love is interrupted by a birth, and in Birth it is interrupted by death. Make of that as you wish.

That they also share the aforementioned stunning cinematography, plus great musical scores (Desplat's work on Birth remains one of the greatest things my ears have ever heard), and bona fide immaculate performances by the respective lead actors are just cherries on top. Birth has been said to have been influenced by Kubrick, which I think is definitely on point to a degree, but having now see Ophuls' film I can't separate the two. Nor do I want to, even if my mind is just playing tricks. I now covet both of these films separately and together. I want to soak in their opulence and live in a world where I get to yearn for somebody with the strength and dedication as them. Although, hopefully, my yearning would have a happier ending.

I was thankfully able to view Letter from an Unknown Woman in 35mm print form, which was a wonderful relief. MoMA are screening it again on Monday at 5pm so hopefully I have maybe inspired you to jump on the subway to 53rd street. Coincidentally, Birth will also be screening on 5 June and 12 June at MoMA in a tribute season to cinematographer Harris Savides. I have been told by the MoMA people that it too is screening in 35mm. If somebody would put them together, side-by-side, I think you'd have one hell of devastating double.

East Village Blues

Why wasn't I in the East Village yesterday when Jake Gyllenhaal and Jude Law were strutting about?

It's just mean, it is. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scream in Prime Time

A couple of weeks back I got to see Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream" at the Museum of Modern Art here in Manhattan. In actual fact, it wasn't a painting at all, but one of the artwork's many incarnations that are spread across the world in various museums and galleries. The version that is at MoMA - which, by the way, is only on display for a further four days until 29 April! - is a pastel on paper on cardboard piece from 1895. Despite the fact that it's an incredible piece of art and imagery, as was much of the rest of the Munch collection on viewing offer, but seeing this particular work made me feel quite giddy because it was the influence behind "Ghostface" from Scream.

Yes, most things can be distilled down to Scream and I make no apologies. This was all suddenly on my brain today though because, well wouldn't you know, that Scream TV series on MTV that we discussed last year is actually happening. Well, it's going to pilot, but since it's MTV I can't imagine anything being bad enough to not go to full series, right? They just renewed something called "Snooki & JWOWW" so, lol, whatever, right? The network is set to announce it at their up front today, but apparently they will be working with Dimension Films and are hoping to get Wes Craven on board. Given the writer of Scream, Scream 2, and parts of Scream 3 and Scream 4, Kevin Williamson, has such a troubled history with the franchise and is working on his own serial killer TV series The Following, it's doubtful he will be involved. That may be a good thing since I got a bit bored by The Following after a while, didn't you? Although, hey, anything giving Nico Tortello the opportunity to do photoshoots like this can't be all for nothing!

As I said in June last year, I'm not entirely against the idea if they find a way to keep it in a lively spirit and don't drag things out to season-after-season. I think self-contained seasons could be the way to go - I mean, the killers in these movies barring Mrs Loomis have all proven to be infinitely dumb with an attention span of a few days at most, so are we really going to be expected to believe anybody will be able to have the patience of an entire series? Doubtful. But, then again, stranger things have happened. I figured the idea of a Scream series had been all but kicked to the curb since it'd been radio silence on the matter for so long, but I guess MTV don't really have all that much going on in their drama department so why not, 'ey?

Traffic Cones and Daggers

Whenever anybody has asked me what my favourite film of the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival has been, I've ummed and aahed. I definitely think David Gordon Green's comeback to minimal character-oriented films (after that weird sojourn into populist entertainment that brought about the funny Pineapple Express and not much else) was my favourite, but I feel somewhat guilty taking the attention away from one of the smaller, less known titles that I also adored. It's frequently like that at film festivals - there are big name films like this or Before Midnight (which I did not see, sadly) that come with distribution and big name actors with little invested other than their reputation and their time and it sometimes feels a bit like cheating to label them the best. Compare Prince Avalanche to, say, Sam Fleischner's Stand Clear of the Closing Doors or Scott Coffey's Adult World and I can't help but want to give them the edge.

ANYWAY, that was all a big way around of saying that I loved Prince Avalanche. It's a mightily impressive two-hander from David Gordon Green with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch playing not-quite-relatives gone bush. I'd be keen to see the Icelandic original although I'm not sure if it is readily available. Nevertheless, the new version is so good that I don't feel like I am entirely missing out. The people behind the film have released a poster and will be unleashing a trailer sometime tomorrow. The poster has a nice touch to it, although hardly indicative of the film's many pleasures.

Speaking of posters, this newbie for upcoming lo-fi panic thriller Black Rock is a doozy, don't you think? Obviously paying homage to the key art of Deliverance (and not Jaws like some have lazily suggested), but I don't mind when it's done so spectacularly well. And it sort of represents the film quite well, I think. Directed by and starring Katie Aselton, Black Rock is minimal, but with a jagged edge. I'll likely look at the film more closer to the release date in May, but for now just look at the poster.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Joan Fontaine Walk Into a Bar

In looking for clips of Australian rock band Divinyls in the wake of Geelong-born Chrissie Amphlett (Geelong being my home town, and the subject of "Boys in Town", one of the band's biggest hits from the soundtrack to Monkey Grip) I came across an old video from the days of Fast Forward of Gina Riley doing her best amphlett performance to the tune of "I Touch Myself". I naturally got into a bit of a rabbits hole and came across this, a skit from Big Girl's Blouse that sees Deiter Brummer rub shoulders with Katharine "Kate" Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Joan Fontaine in the surf club of Summer Bay.

I presume the reason for their doing this was purely because all three are wonderful impersonations and, hey,  why not on Home & Away?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Oblivion Has Fallen

Movies that can look rather inocuous can sometimes prove to be the very worst. The two biggest hits of the US box office this past month since I moved here have been Anton Fuqua's Olympus Has Fallen and Joseph Kosinki's Oblivion. The former appeared, at least from the outset, to be a retro throwback to the national wartime action films of the 1990s - right down to the comparatively dodgy effects (back when they were "special" not "visual") and thick-necked gun-toting lead. The latter is only Kosinski's second film after somehow stumbling upon the greenlight to film the long-awaited TRON: Legacy and had looked to be a pretty, if almost endearingly derivative, attempt at launching an original property. That last part is admirable, sure, but what the two films share in their DNA is a downright contempt for audiences. Albeit, a contempt that emerges in different ways that offended me for different reasons. Still, they rank as two examples of some of Hollywood's worst habits.

Fuqua does many things that blockbuster cinema has done countless times, and I guess by now we should all be all be used to it. As if it's some sort of agreement we make with the studios by purchasing a ticket; we should know and accept that Hollywood is repetitious and we should just learn to silently shrug our shoulders and carry on enjoying the violence and the action that they so excel at. Except in the case of Olympus Has Fallen director Fuqua and debut screenwriters Creighton Rothenberg and Katrin Benedikt have added the bad taste of re-appropriating 9/11 iconography in the form of jingoistic mass entertainment. It's all well and good to act appalled and to chuckle for a few minutes at people confusing Chechnya with Czechoslovakia, but is it really any surprise such people exist when films like this are produced that so directly equate the desire to end American civilisation with broad strokes of the ethnic pen?

Cinema has always fallen onto the crux of "the other" for their villains. Whether it's the Russians or the Chinese and the communists, this is hardly new territory. Even Australian cinema has gone there with the film adaptation of Tomorrow When the War Began (and visualised the oblique references made in the book). Still, it's rarely felt as down the line offensive as what Olympus does with North Korea. By directly associating that nation with the imagery of September 11th, they appear to be drawing a dangerous parallel. Furthermore, that imagery is important for a reason and it strikes of a distinct lack of class and skill to lift it wholesale just for chest-thumping thrills and spills (and kills - so many kills).

Still, despite the fact that Olympus Has Fallen was rush-produced to capitalise on the upcoming release of identical (on paper, at least) White House Down, and utilises a very obvious riff on Die Hard (although the poster mentions Under Siege) for its central plot, it has a long way to go before trumping Joseph Kosinski's Oblivious in the lack of originality stakes. A genuinely shocking use of other (better) films' hard work for the sake of an already rather rudimentary plot. With bits taken wholesale and piecemeal from these other films adding up to the effect of a patchwork quilt, somebody really needed to take a big red pen to the screenplay. Or better yet, start from scratch. How else to fix the litany of issues that arise in the writing of Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek, and Michael Arndt (!) based upon an unproduced comic by Kosinski and Arvid Nelson?

The list of steals (they would probably say "homages" or "influences", but let's not mince words: they stole them) range from childhood animation (Wall-E) to high-falutin science fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey) and everything in between (Alien: Resurrection, Independence Day, Silent Running, Hardware, hell, even TRON: Legacy!). And that's not even mentioning the fact that Morgan Freeman looks strikingly like Isaac Hayes in his very limited role (don't believe the advertising there) as a rebellion leader.

And then there's the more universal issues of the terrible dialogue such as that nauseating opening narration that is told organically some 20 minutes later, lethargic pacing, generic score (yes, even by M83), rather bland art direction, not to mention an internal illogic (you'd think Tom Cruise's super flying craft machine would have internal controls to shut down if the pilot goes rogue) that so frequently makes for head scratching moments of dunderheaded nonsense. It looks an impressive feat on the (fake) IMAX screen, but it's hollow. There isn't anything there, even visually, to lodge its way into the brain. It's empty, vacuous nothing without a single original thought in its tiny brain. And, honestly, if you're not five steps ahead of the filmmakers at all time then you probably haven't seen many movies (gee! I wonder who the mysterious lady is in those interminable black and white flashbacks?)

Maybe that's who it's for? People who just haven't seen many movies. Maybe they will watch it and they will have a good time - the box office figures certainly suggest plenty are going, although I wonder about word of mouth - and that's nice for them. One day maybe they will discover the films that Oblivion shamelessly rips off and by that stage will be able to re-evaluate. They can also ask why Zoe Bell was covered up until the final scene (yet again - Quentin?) Until then? Olympus Has Fallen: D; Oblivion: D-.

One thing that they share exactly? Melissa Leo with a bad accent. That woman needs to stop it!

Who, me?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Brain and the Body

I've seen two horror films in the last week or so. As I like to describe them, one is of the brain and the other is of the body. One traces the gradual decline of a single individual as he gets deeper and deeper into a situation he can't escape, while the other revels in more traditional horror tropes like gore and the undead. Both are impeccable crafted endeavours that never once feel like anything on screen was unintentioned. Of course, whether they differ is a gulf so wide that chalk and cheese would baulk.

Simon Killer comes from the production house that brought us the stunning directorial debut of Sean Durkin, Martha Marcy May Marlene in 2011. Director and co-writer Antonio Campos' unnerving, is dramatically too cool for school in many ways, Simon Killer is certainly not the film that I had expected given the rather dark title and creepy (and excellent) poster. Much more than a backpacker Parisian Psycho, it follows a young American tourist in Paris as he digs holes so deep he can't get out. First by pretending to be the recipient of a beating in order to stay at the home of an affectionate prostitute, and then by struggling to keep the darkness within him covered up.

The film's co-writer (I presume there was quite a bit of improvisation in that regard) is star Brady Corbet, one of the most interesting actors working today alone based on the list of directors he's worked with. His filmography isn't extensive, but considering he's worked with Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin), Michael Haneke (Funny Games US), and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia) as well as the aforementioned Sean Durkin on Martha Marcy. He obviously fostered a good working relationship with the team and is now a creative force behind Simon Killer.

Make no mistake, this is purely a horror film in broad psychological terms. There's no blood and not even any thrills despite working within a thriller template. The horror of the piece is in Corbet's performance. He is so good in the role as Simon, mentally unstable and unable to contain it. With him working at such a great level, it's a shame the film didn't pick up to meet him. It's not that the film's first half doesn't work, it's just that characters routinely do things that show such poor judgement. It's hard to be reeled in. Towards the end, however, Campos appears to elevate the material thanks to more abrasive editing and a more hurried pace. Gold stars also for the use of Spectral Display's "It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love" to such unique and unsettling effect. B-

What the psycho-chills of Simon Killer lacks in the blood and gore department are more than made up for with Xan Cassavetes' Kiss of the Damned. A film that's as super lush and stylish as it is super ridiculous and, at times, over-the-top. One could almost call it a campire tale given its propensity to be flashy and abundantly into its own colourful aesthetic. The film, Cassavetes' debut feature after her 2004 documentary Z Channel:A Magnificent Obsession, frequently looks like Sofia Coppola directing a Florence + The Machine video (and, surely not coincidentally, Coppola's name appears in the end credit thank yous) with some impeccably rich costume and production design. Shame the actors drown in them, which can make for a slower second act.

I think Jason at My New Plaid Pants put it best: "there's a lot of talk in Kiss of the Damned about the magnetic force of Milo [Ventimiglia]'s presence, and you kinda wanna laugh every time it's spoken of." Vampires are, after all, meant to be compelling creatures and lure with lust, but while Milo - as well as the parade of women that surround him all throughout the film - is a very good looking man (that beard is working all sorts of wonders for him) he doesn't exactly command the screen. The women, too, are mostly airy beings that float about through scenes, although if that was Cassavetes' intentions then at least she cast well and got actors that have some truly captivating voices.

Where the film really succeeds is is the sound work. May sound like a strange observation, but it's true. The sound work in Kiss of the Damned is phenomenal and seeing it in the theatre certainly packed a punch that home entertainment would otherwise lack. The abrupt switches in music styles mixed with copious screams, canny dialogue dubbing, and high-pitched sound effects, not to mention the deep bass that appears to be a constant within the sound mix. The work here is a genuine wonder and was one of the reasons that I remained so focused and alert during the somewhat less exciting (if more gruesome) second half. I found Kiss of the Damned to be a much more intoxicating experiment than, say, Amer, which I think some may compare it to thanks to their pastiche patterns. B

Both Simon Killer and Kiss of the Damned are available on demand in America. Simon is also in limited release now, Damned will be in cinemas from May.

Only God Forgives at Willow Creek with The Bling Ring: Recent Poster Round-Up

Hopefully we're getting back into more regular blogging mode, which means posters! There has been plenty of key art worth discussing in my absence so let's get to it, shall we?

Willow Creek
Let's just get this out of the way: I have no idea what the hell this movie is. I know it's directed by Bobcat Goldthwaite who holds quite a bit of cache in certain circles, although I'm not sure I know anything he's done (I passed on God Bless America since it looked like satire of the most obvious). From what I can tell in this rather exceptional early poster by Alex Pardee, it maybe has a bit in common with the Norwegian film Trollhunter, which came out several years ago and which I did not like at all. Hopefully Willow Creek is better than that. The poster is certainly something to get excited about at least.

Loving the colours, loving the concept, loving the retro vibe. It will no doubt be replaced by something far more generic/ugly/boring/all of the above. Still, if the film proves to be any good then this design will surely remain the go to poster for fans to hang on their wall and for limited edition DVD artworks.

Only God Forgives
The marketing campaign for Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive never really did get it entirely right. Always somewhat at odds with how to balance the film's more mainstream-baiting sensibilities and the more artistic flare that the film obviously revelled in. I have been intrigued as to how the latest collaboration between Refn and Drive star Ryan Gosling would be marketed given that film's infamous struggles (remember the lady that sued the distributor because the trailer was misrepresentative?), and now we get our first look.

Well, okay then. Just like above, I am sure that more designs will come that put Gosling front and centre (a similar problem with The Place Beyond the Pines, actually), but for now we have this rather stunning teaser. Given the film is set in the Asian underworld, I think this is a wonderful representation. It lets out a very specific vibe that no amount of photoshopped actors floating above exotic locales could provide. Bonus points for that tagline - "time to meet the devil".

I'm notoriously fickle when it comes to posters that utilise empty, negative space. More times than not I find it lazy and boring and I can't imagine how anybody would look at a poster that's 80% nothing and go "I want to see that!" However, I think it works well in this (likely festival-only) situation with Bluebird. Perhaps it's because I already know the film's rather stark subject matter and so can see how the aesthetic is representative. But, I do also think that the concept is just really nicely done and the washed out colours are entirely suitable for a film that deals with such grim subject matter as this.

The Exquisite Corpse Project
This is another situation of a very common design aesthetic feeling far less rudimentary as other recent examples. It certainly helps that there's a fabulous sense of juxtaposition in the title and the underneath image of a beautiful blond woman smiling out towards the audience.

I'm not sure the way the typeface has been executed is the best, but then I'm not sure what would have been better, either. There's not all that much to say about it, really. I think the colours are striking and it's certainly a eye-catcher, no?

The Heat
Look, this poster is actually quite lazy and, really, that font is just so boring and laid out in such a terribly yawnsome manner that it's almost easy to forget that I actually giggled when I first saw it.

I like that is has chutzpah, especially for an original property that is being sold entirely on star power. I think the pose of stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy is comical enough without being crass or overbearing (hello The Hangover sequels!) and the way it actually gets its message across rather simply with little fuss. The poster is a statement and for a teaser that's more than enough.

The Bling Ring
Oh, how I love this poster! It's so good I'm just going to show it before rambling.

I just adore it. Love it. Covet it. I'm not even going to ramble about the poster since it's is such a divine piece of artwork that if you can't see why it's so good right from the get go then nothing I can say will change your mind. Also: you be mad, yo. Along with Spring Breakers (plus Six Acts, which I have seen at the Tribeca International Film Festival), teenagers - especially teenage girls - are not coming off very nicely this year, are they?

This is rubbish. This is really rubbish. The trailer made this movie look bad enough, I didn't really need this terrible poster to convince me that it's "not for me". Is James McAvoy trying to get something out of his system? Between Filth and Danny Boyle's Trance, which is out now and not a good movie at all, it's as if he's had a shot of cocaine adrenalin and wants to let everyone in on it. Yikes.

I mean, look, I get it, but it's the execution that's way off for me here. It just looks so poorly conceived. AND OH MY GAWD THE HASHTAG IS THE TITLE JUST DIE.

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
We loved the festival poster for this film so much that it made the number one spot in the year end list (from a rather ho-hum year, which I've noted enough already) and now that the film is getting a theatrical release it has gotten a nice and glossy redo that thankfully isn't entirely appalling. I continue to think that typeface is really interesting and gives this more typical design a slight oomph and an edge that it would lack if they had used, oh, verdana.

The colour scheme definitely echoes that of the wonderful poster for Pariah from 2011, but just because one "urban" drama about women has utilised an aesthetic doesn't mean another one can't. Even then, the colours here are quite rich and liquid, which lends it a really beautiful quality. It's a bit rougher around the edges, but you've got to expect that from such an independent place.

The Night Visitor
I can't tell if I like this or not. Can you help?

Is it too simple? I just don't know. It does, however, have a quality that I think I am responding to. I'm just not sure.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Tale of Two Best Pictures

One of the (many) benefits of living in New York City is the far more abundant cinema scene and the access that one has to it. Within a week of each other I was able to catch up with two Best Picture winners that I'd never seen before. And on the big screen, too. Well, one was on a big screen in the traditional sense, while the other was on a big screen that was basically just a really big television. But, hey, the ticket was cheap so who's complaining? Still better than watching it on a dinky laptop screen, which is - as of right now - my only other way to watch movies.

 As hard as it is to believe, I'd never seen George Cukor's My Fair Lady before last week. Although, to be perfectly honest with you, I sometimes have a hard time with the musicals of this era. I mean, come on, is there anybody that likes Oliver! out there? And although I've never seen it, Gigi is frequently cited as a terrible movie. From what I have read of it I can't help but continue to avoid it. Still, My Fair Lady at least has a reputation as being somewhat respectable (right?) and I'm definitely glad I finally bit the bullet the sat down to watch all 170 minutes of the eight-time Oscar winner (we'll get to those in a moment). As soon as the overture began I remembered why I've always turned Cukor's Broadway adaptation off whenever I have gone to watch it. That music! Those flowers! It's always struck me as rather deflating and coupled with the length meant I was never in any particular mood to watch it. And, you guys, you need to be in the mood to watch three hours of this.

I can't say I was particularly taken by the whole enterprise. It's a stridently old fashioned in a way that doesn't translate to a modern day viewing. Not that a film needs to continue to feel relevant in order to be watchable some fifty years later (49, to be exact, this Christmas), but this particular film is made in a way that I can't possibly imagine it feeling anything less than old fashioned back in 1964. There's nothing forward or innovative about Cukor's direction, nor Alan Jay Lerner's adaptation of his own stage show. The camera is almost always utilised in a rather rudimentary fashion and the editing rarely uplifting to the material. And then there is, of course, the acting, which is a minefield all its own. Rex Harrison, surely one of the more baffling winners of Best Actor Oscar that I have seen, is genuinely terrible as the misogynistic phonetics expert. He plays his character so ugly that the film's third act romantic switcheroo plays entirely false. Audrey Hepburn's Eliza Doolittle can't help but come off like a subservient waif by falling in love with him. It would have surely been more brave to have Eliza leave the cantankerous professor. The film never has a very good view of men or women, but this act of complacent formula is just entirely off-putting.

Amongst the eight Oscars that My Fair Lady won were obvious ones like costume and art direction (especially so given the split between color and black + white at the time), curious ones like cinematography and musical adaptation (curious purely because it was nominated against A Hard Day's Night), and dunderheaded ones like actor and director. I'm not expert on the year of 1964 especially as it pertains to Oscar, but My Fair Lady strikes me as such a - and he's a word that I don't use all that often anymore, but feels entirely appropriate - lame choice. Of course, the film's best in show wasn't even nominated. But then, it's hard to nominate Marni Nixon. Where would one place her, after all, given she was given the duties of dubbing over star Audrey Hepburn's vocals. Shame she couldn't have dubbed all of Hepburn's painful stabs at the cockney venacular. Her performance, particularly within her face in which she manages to express so much to comic and dramatic effect, isn't actually all that bad, it's just that opening half with her high-pitched jabs that sounds intolerable.

Still, at least My Fair Lady feels like a production of some weight and size (hell: they certainly made an effort!) that a best picture win makes sense on paper. I can't, however, for the life of me figure out what on Earth was going on in 1938 when they gave the prize to the wholly unremarkable The Life of Emile Zola. A deathly dull biopic (old habits die hard with the Academy; they're still enamoured!) of a famous French writer that while set in France is spoken entirely in English and even accented in it in many cases. Paul Muni stars as the titular literary hero who brought about uncovering the disgraceful acts of treason and coverups within the French army. A story such as this really could have made for an interesting film, but the stodgy, stale manner with which director Williams Dieterle tells it hampers any possibility of that.

The signs were right there in the title, really. Many things that claim to be the story of somebody's entire life inevitably turn out to be dry. I, of course, already knew of the film's reputation thanks to this article and if I hadn't had a MoMA membership that allowed for free tickets then I probably wouldn't have gone. "Both overstuffed and understuffed" is a wonderful way to describe The Life of Emile Zola, a film that feels like its striving for epic grandeur while never really lifting a finger to express that into the cinematic language. It's a boring film to look at with only two shots (trust me, I counted) that struck me as having any more thought put behind them than a shrug. And one can't just blame the time period for that, because anybody who knows anything about cinema knows that there were truly grand, visually opulent pieces of film being made at that time. Once the film descends into a more traditional courtroom drama it at least has a personality rather than a floating ball of nothingness. However, the ludicrousness nature of the proceedings turns the events into an almost comical farce. Perhaps intentionally given the reverence the filmmakers obviously have for their subject, but that doesn't make the film any less of a mess from a screenwriting perspective. Furthermore, why introduce Nana as if she is to become a central figure when she gets promptly swept away when the film becomes more interested in Zola's other endeavours. Sigh.

Of course, a best picture winner is a best picture winner, though, and the chance to see it - and on a big screen on less - wasn't one I should have turned down. I'm glad I saw it for the place it holds in history (of course, given the films it was nominated against, that place is not a bit flattering). At least the Academy in those early stages had the foresight to not award Zola's director. I mean, he didn't even do much directing so it makes sense, right! My Fair Lady: C; The Life of Emile Zzzola: D.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Scary Trailer

One thing I have definitely noticed in my brief amount of time here in America is that horror is a big deal. In Australia, the genre is considered such weak sauce that Mama, a US box office smash starring Jessica Chastain, got a limited released on 55 screens compared to the usual 300+. Another US box office number one, Texas Chainsaw 3D will be going direct to home entertainment at some point in the future and Sinister is also still awaiting a release of some kind. Any kind. Meanwhile, it was just announced that Fede Alvarez's remake of The Evil Dead, which just debuted at the top of the American box office with quite a hefty sum of money, will follow the track of last year's Cabin in the Woods "exclusive" release on the barest number of screens. What a sad state of affairs, really, and whenever I mention any of this to my American friends and they can't quite imagine it.

 No where was this cultural difference more obvious than when I went down to a local cinema here in Astoria, Queens, to see Evil Dead. After the prerequisite onslaught of ads that start playing BEFORE the session is supposed to start - which seems like a cackle-worthy prank by exhibitors who watch audiences arrive early by cultural default onto to make them sit through more ads than they otherwise would if everybody just showed up at the time the banner states! - my quietly-attended Monday afternoon session bore witness to eight movie trailers (it may have been more, but I presumably lost track). Below are all the horror trailers that we saw in order of most anticipated. As for Evil Dead? Well, you'll have to wait a bit for my review in my new feature at Quickflix.


 I am most definitely looking forward to The Conjuring. I was a big fan of James Wan's Insidious and I do keep meaning to go back and watch Dead Silence, which is another scary title that I don't think got a release outside of DVD in Australia. As far as the marketing I definitely preferred the "clapping teaser" and this new trailer tends to overdo the bombast on occasion, but I still think it does a great job at selling the creepy, old school vibe that plays more to my sensibilities than... Evil Dead? What really makes me intrigued, beyond the obvious stuff, are the actors. Put Lily Taylor (hoping to redeem her horror cred many years after the dreadful The Haunting remake) and Vera Farmiga (still on her genre bent that's included Orphan and Bates Motel amongst others) together and I'll probably go see it no matter what.


I am incredibly wary of The Purge, let me tell you. I mean, for starters, the entire premise of one day a year being allotted for Americans to wage war upon each other and vent whatever violence they have stored within them is incredibly farfetched. And then, of course, there's the politics of the lone black man bringing upon such pain and suffering on the clearly quite well off, upper-middle class white family at the centre of the plot. My eyebrow was cocked, that's for sure. Still, once the scary stuff begins it basically looks just like The Strangers with Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman and I'm on board. Home invasion horror films can be hit or miss: for every The Strangers there's a Kidnapped, you know? We'll hold up hope for this Ethan Hawke starrer, though.


We've briefly discussed this remake of Carrie and I'm still not impressed upon seeing this trailer on the big screen. If anything, Chloe Grace Moretz is even more annoying projected many feet high. It just makes her attractiveness even more obvious. Sigh. Is this what it was like for non-fans of Molly Ringwald growing up in the 1980s? Still, even in that case, Ringwald wasn't out there shoving wannabe franchises under her arm. Sigh again. I am intrigued by Julianne Moore though, and especially Judy Greer. In regards to the latter, it's just disappointing that she gets a potentially great dramatic role and it's in a film like Carrie. Sigh even more. I received several comments on here and on Twitter about how in Stephen King's book Carrie White does indeed enjoy her powers. In the book, Carrie White is also overweight. Not even Stephen King's own television movie version didn't go there. That says quite a bit, does it not?


Trust me: this is scarier than anything we'll see in the previous three movies. Right? Yikes. Paranormal Activity certainly could have been ripe for spoofing, but none of it is at all funny. Not even chucklesome. And, really, what is going on with Lindsay Lohan and Heather Locklear's faces? They could be cast as mother and daughter and actually resemble one another. Truly terrifying. I guess the "V" makes it classy.



Friday, April 5, 2013

Horror Revisited

Did you guys watch Hannibal last night on NBC? I know some people who liked it very much, but I was feeling quite antagonistic towards it from the opening sequences. Perhaps it's just my lack of satisfaction with the wounded, super-smart agent archetype that has been so popular lately. This year alone we've already had Kevin Bacon in another serial killer thriller series, The Following, and now Hugh Dancy's character is basically like that times infinite. Yikes. I worry where the character can go for a series (or two or four) if he can supposedly whiff out all the details of a serial killer's pattern without noticing he's got the cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter right under his nose. Hmmm

Still, it wasn't just that particular character detail that rubbed me the wrong way. No, I could have done with far less of the imaginary/fantasy/spooky flashback imagery that seemed to rise up multiple times in each scene. The opening scene alone was full of the stuff that was, I presume, meant to put the audience in the frame of mind of Dancy's cluttered brain, but instead came off as cluttered itself. Messy, unfocused. Blegh. And all that stuff about visiting a construction company without a warrant? Er, I'm fairly certain that's illegal. The "next week on"teaser at episode's end appeared to promise something far better than the pilot episode - 100% more Gillian Anderson for one, and maybe more of a focus on actual Hannibal. Mads Mikkelsen deserves that in a show that's named after his character, doesn't he?

I've heard people say just as ruthlessly bad stuff about the other series that bases itself on a famous cinematic and literary horror icon, Bates Motel. Based off of one episode each, I definitely give the edge to Norman and his mother, given it's very stylish appropriation of the Psycho property. I appreciated it's classy and character-defining costume design as well as the attention`grabbing production design that puts a modern day spin on that very famous hotel/motel combo. Hannibal lacked all the, ahem, bite that made previous incarnations so memorable (yes, I even like the 2001 film, Hannibal). At least Bates Motel didn't appear to be merely riffing off of other broadcast crime procedurals.

Speaking of new spins on old horror favourites, did you see the trailer for Kimberly Pierce's new take on Carrie. Look, it's hard to be less on board with this film than I already was, and yet... voila!

Watching the original Carrie and I can totally see why nobody would be friends with Sissy Spacek's interpretation of the character. With her wilted body, beige clothes, and gawkish face it is easy to see why even the unpopular kids at school wouldn't want to be around her. Chloe Grace Moretz? "Her?" as I like to tease. She just looks just like a regular adolescent high schooler going through a moody phase. No amount of pouting - and that's exactly what she's doing to represent her isolation and loneliness - will make me believe that she wouldn't have friends. I guess we'll see when the film actually comes out, but this trailer has done little more than just make me anticipate this mess even less.

The worst bit of it all, though? That smirk she gives when she realises she has telekinetic powers. Pierce's film seems like a fairly straight cut remake - the trailer doesn't really leave much to the imagination in that regard - but Carrie White isn't meant to enjoy her abilities. That seems like a fairly obvious reading of the character, no? Sigh. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.

Furthermore on this theme, this weekend in America sees the release of the remake of The Evil Dead. We'll wait and see, I guess.