Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Reminder About Dan Futterman

Just in case you'd forgotten about Dan Futterman, the gorgeous hairy-chested man from  Judging AmyThe Birdcage (he was the straight one) and Urbania (he was definitely the gay one) is still incredibly handsome with a cute butt. He was at the same cinema sessions as I was last night at BAM in Brooklyn and I can very verify it all. Especially the second point since I let him exit ahead of me. Sigh. Dan seems to be more well known these days as a screenwriter - he was Oscar-nominated for Capote and has another Bennett Miller film, Foxcatcher coming up - but he was recently in Hello I Must Be Going with Melanie Lynskey so that's nice.

And because we're not entirely above using whatever segue to remember Dan Futterman in Urbania...

That was a great movie. And not just for the reasons above, okay!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Only Way Was Up

Lest we forget that the first of X-Men's "origin" prequels (or whatever, who can keep track as to what's what with that franchise at the moment?), punnily titled First Class had what could fairly be described as two of the worst posters ever. I don't just mean "lol, they were bad", but they were offensively terrible in a way that big budget Hollywood fare rarely truly achieves. Do we need a refresher?

Actively the worst posters of 2011 and I would not be at all surprised to see them reign supreme at the end of 2009 as the worst of the decade. They're that bad. So, really, for X-Men: Days of Future Past could only go up with their key art and, thankfully, the first teaser posters releases recently aren't entirely woeful. Let's not go getting crazy and out of hand here, they're little more than attractively adequate, but that they're so far away from those First Class disasters that they kinda deserve a standing ovation.

The idea is neat, the execution neat-ish (although the Fassbender one doesn't quite line up - but his certainly looks more related if that makes sense). I like the mix of black and white with colour because it's at least eye-catching and will bring cinemagoers in for a closer look. I wonder if they will do it for all the characters or just these two? I guess the prequel featured mostly mutants that weren't in any of the other films and from what I gather Rebecca Romijn as Mystique won't be travelling back in time to meet Jennifer Lawrence, so that's out the window. 

I look forward to seeing how this marketing campaign develops over the year. Really, the only was is up.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Mary Poppins

I had never seen Mary Poppins before today. This somewhat startling fact had become more or less a running gag with certain friends since they just could not fathom why I hadn't seen it and why I had no desire to do so. I was the same with The Sound of Music until I came across it one day on television and figured "it's now or never." My experience with watching that famous 1965 Julie Andrews musical only made my desire to not watch Mary Poppins from one year earlier even stronger. Still, bite the bullet I did and I watched Robert Stevenson's 1964 musical for the first time for The Film Experience's ongoing "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series.

I'll admit that for as much as I struggled to watch the movie its seemingly interminable series of pantomime and cloying wide-eyed quirkiness, I struggled even more to find a shot that I liked enough. I don't feel Mary Poppins is a particularly well-photographed film. Oh, sure, the sets and the costumes and the animation and the visual effects are all working overtime to make this a lively and energetic picture (there is always a lot going on in nearly every frame), but I don't think the cinematography do it any favours with its unimaginative set-ups and framing. I didn't find many of the musical sequences all that involving and only when they really ramped up the artificiality did I actually get invested in them, which is a curious thing to admit but there you go.

I guess that brings me back to why I just flat out did not like this movie. It feels so crushingly old-fashioned. Consider that West Side Story had come out just three years prior and maybe you can see what I mean. That one is so vibrantly constructed and beats with a modern heart. Mary Poppins, for all of its technological advances, just reeks of mothballs. I know many consider the film to be a lighter than air confection, but I found its dottering and fluttering to be nigh on insufferable. I mean, it certainly doesn't help that Julie Andrews is the only one I could stand to listen to - it's undeniable that she has a pretty voice, yes - but I really struggled to watch this movie without sighing every time an unnecessary song that goes on far too long came on. Cutesy kids alert at red, folks. Eep!

The one aspect other than Andrews that I enjoyed was just how very odd the whole enterprise is. I don't just mean in that characters go about doing odd things, but that the film itself finds itself throwing some truly odd stuff out there in what was probably conceived as a rather innocuous children's flick (upcoming Saving Mr Banks will certainly show us what's what, right? Ummm... maybe not). When it came to selecting a shot I considered the moment the flowers become butterflies in the famous animated sequence (above), or something from Dick Van Dyke's rooftop dancing sequence with the fireworks since there was some beautiful matte work there, or his foggy exit, or even one of the ridiculous shots of nanny's flying away down the street (did nobody find that odd?) No, my "best shot" is one actually from the very beginning of the movie as the camera pans across the London skies and spots Mary Poppins sitting atop the clouds. I found it quite odd, but that's a good thing.

It's a moment that genuinely surprised me. And for a film that didn't do all that much surprising to me in its following two hours and twenty minutes, I figured that was worth celebrating. It's just a supremely strange moment that comes unexpectedly and comes rather peacefully, uncluttered by everything including the kitchen sink that the rest of the film seems determined to throw at the screen. Looking at it just now and it's a rather beautiful image in its own right, and one that looks as if it carries a certain sadness without its cheerful chim-chim-cheree on the soundtrack. I wish the rest of the film was able to make me actually feel something other than painful contempt. I am not surprised in the least that the creator of the Mary Poppins character hated the film.

If you ask me, the best thing this film wrought was the infamous "Scary Mary" recut trailer that reposits the film as an suspenceful horror flick about a vengeful nanny with mystical powers. I'd long enjoyed the video, but now having seen the movie it's based on I can guarantee that it'd be a helluva lot more interesting. Especially since, as the video suggests as well as the aforementioned odd moments, there's a completely different movie going on in there and I want to see it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: American Graffiti

George Lucas has been saying he's going to leave big budget movies behind and refocus on the small ones that began his career in the 1970s. Anybody who has paid any attention knows that that is never going to happen, even if he has decided to sell his LucasFilm brand and potentially leave the Star Wars (and Indiana Jones, I guess) franchise behind him. He'll surely never truly leave it behind. I mean, he's hung on to that thing for dear life for decades and even against his better judgement has kept spinning it off into new incarnations at the drop of a hat.

Still, even if Lucas' career is one of unfulfilled promise, derailed by the unparalleled success of a genre flipped space opera, that initial promise will always be unforgettable. His 1973 nostalgic ode to the teenage dream of his early life was his second feature after the stripped down science fiction of THX 1138. He was nominated for writing and directing Oscars, winning neither. It was still a huge deal given its origin as a small-budget virtually independent production. It's hard to imagine teenagers today flocking to a film such as this, although I guess Gary Ross' Pleasantville is the closest I can think of off the top of my head.

The film, a sprawling look at a group of graduating seniors on the verge of a tumultuous world. It's one of my favourite movies. A good looking one, however, is not how I've ever particularly seen it. This series at The Film Experience, that asks readers to select their favourite shot from within a given film, proves otherwise. Furthering how much I adore this film, every time I watch it it reveals something new and rich. The visuals, as I said, have never been something I have gravitated towards, but looking at it now it seems silly to have not noticed them earlier. There are some really vivid colours and beautifully crafted images on display here. 

See? Absolutely gorgeous. I particularly love the film's use of shadow and tightness. So many movies are filmed in close shots these days, but here it truly serves a purpose. The shot I chose - sadly after only a skim, I didn't have time to rewatch the entire film as much as I would love to (also: my blu-ray is back home in Australia) - is this moment, which I think sums up the film really rather nicely. These people occupy a sort of limbo land where they want to be adults - smoking, drinking - but knowing full well that the passing of time means the things they take for granted will fall away. 

This beautiful shot of Oscar-nominated Candy Clark, I feel, echoes those sentiments entirely. An almost mournful pose as the cool purple light of the night sky beams down - they won't have moments like this for much longer, and the melancholy nature of the lighting here adds pangs of sadness to this already thick layer of morose that lingers over the characters. It's a gorgeous shot from a gorgeous moment in a gorgeous film. Just gorgeous. Drink up!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Continental & The Secret Disco Revolution

Dir. Malcolm Ingram
Country: USA
Running Time: 95mins
Rating: N/A

The Secret Disco Revolution
Dir. Jamie Kastner
Country: Canada / USA / France
Running Time: 90mins
Rating: N/A

“In order to be successful, you either have to create a desire, or fulfil a need”, says Continental bath owner Steve Ostrow in writer/director Malcolm Ingram’s third homo-centric documentary Continental (after Small Town Gay Bar and Bear Nation). “In this case, it was doing both.” The latest in a recently extended line of documentaries examining less mainstream elements of gay culture history – I Am Divine and Before You Know It are two others to came out of this year’s SXSW festival – Continental is a conventionally assembled, but briskly entertaining recounting of how what is now considered a hush-hush underground aspect of gay life was at one time an open secret and hive of activity. It gave birth to the fame of Bette Midler and Barry Manilow alongside allowing New York gay men an outlet for their sexuality that society was determined to supress.

Read the rest at Glenn

And in case you're not aware, I am posting more reviews online at Quickflix and Junkee, which are accessible at their website or at my own (linked above)

San Francisco FIPRESCI Review: Nights with Théodore

Nights with Théodore
Dir. Sebastien Betbeder
Country: France
Running Time: 67mins 
Aus Rating: N/A 

At only 67 minutes long, Sébastien Betbeder's captivating genre mash-up Nights with Théodore (Les nuits avec Theodore) could be seen as skimping on the drama. However, it turns out that that is in fact the perfect length, and perhaps more filmmakers could take a lesson or two when it comes to the old-fashioned way of thinking that length equals importance and worth. It is certainly a way of thinking that has taken hold amongst Hollywood with Oscar-winners and box office hit comedies alike stretching their rather innocuous storylines to absurd lengths, diluting their product in the process. The short running time is only one of the strengths of Betbeder's film, but perhaps one of the most noteworthy in a festival scenario. It certainly doesn't outstay its welcome and that is something to be thankful for.

Read the rest at FIPRESCI

Apologies for getting this review up so late, but it's been sitting on the FIPRESCI website since I returned from sitting on the San Francisco jury. You can read about my experiences on the jury at Quickflix as well as a look at all the films in competition at The Film Experience if didn't get to read them at the time.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rush to the Waxworks

I feel like I've seen the trailer for Rush ahead of every single new release movie from the last six months. You know the one? The one that shows you every.single.beat. of the trailer. I know it's based on a true story and like, say, adapting a book, complaining about what happens is a bit silly. Still, there's surprises to be had in the form of narrative and storytelling decisions that the trailer gives away - marriage, himboism, courage, etc etc, everything. It's frustrating and makes me want to not see the film. Well, not see it even more than I already did. Let's face it, a Ron Howard grand prix film is probably not on my nor your must see lists.

However, the trailer for all its fault at least makes the film look like not-a-comedy. This Spanish poster, however, I can't say the same:

Yikes. They look like they ventured out from a wax museum in the Uncanny Valley. They'd fit right in in this Los Angeles wax museum that's become a bit of a viral LOL factory. It's quite clearly just the heads of Hemsworth and Bruhl pasted onto the bodies of random body models, but why do the faces look so fake and plastic? They look like cyborgs lined up to annihilate mankind. Come to think of it, as loathed as I am to suggest it since he already has one major franchise to his name, but wouldn't Liam Hemsworth make a good new Terminator? I think we'd all like to see him recreate that robot entrance, yes?

See how distracted I have already gotten about this movie? Not even a pretty terrible piece of doctored poster work can keep be interested about a Ron Howard movie, least of all one about car racing. No thanks. I do like, however, that they were able to cram so much product placement into this one poster. Well done to whoever fostered that deal. The lone aspect of this poster that I can respect.