Thursday, August 15, 2013

Whoopi With Your Best Shot: The Color Purple

Typical me, I got a copy of the film in order to do an entry for The Film Experience's beloved (says I) "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series. Typical because it's now 2am the day after participants were meant to get their pieces up and here I am doing it now. Sigh. Sadly, not much commentary for this piece. Isn't that the way of it lately?

I really adore The Color Purple. It's a rarity in Spielberg's filmography for him to make a film so purely focused on women and yet - like magic - it's probably his best acted film. Actresses: we always need more of them. I think Whoopi Goldberg is exceptional here, don't you? And then of course there's Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey making up the trio of fabulous women. They're the core of the film and that's why I didn't choose the below shot as my favourite, even though it probably deserves it...

No, I chose this below shot because, well, just look at it.

This is a film where even in its prettiest sequences - and there are so very many - the ugliness of the world is shining just as bright. The "Miss Celie (Blues)" number, however, is a moment of pure, unbridled joy. A moment for these two women to be beautiful without question. Heaven.

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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Turning Up

It seems that the Sydney-based omnibus film Sydney, I Love You is never going to get made due to legal issues, which means there's only one anthology film coming out from these shores. That's still more than I can recall happening in this country in a very long time.

The film is The Turning, adapted from seventeen short stories by Tim Winton (whose Cloudstreet was successfully adapted into a TV miniseries last year), and premiering at this year's upcoming Melbourne International Film Festival. I usually have issues with films like this, and from the sounds of things they have kept all of the 17 stories that made up The Turning's criss-crossing arc, so I suspect I'll have similar problems here. However, looking at the trailer below makes me somewhat confident that the film could be something special. Certainly, it will be a unique film within the Australian film landscape, which rarely goes this intimate on such a large scale.

Amongst the cast are five incredible Aussie actresses Cate Blanchett, Susie Porter, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, and Brenna Harding (of newfound Puberty Blues fame). Filling it out are names like Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, Wayne Blair (who recently directed the film adaptation of The Sapphires after starring in the stage version), Harrison Gilbertson, Dan Wyllie, Matt Nable, Callan Mulvey (known to most outside of Australia as "the guy that shot Osama Bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty), Myles Pollard, Eva Lazzaro, and Oscar Redding who recent watchers of Top of the Lake may recognise. Basically, that's an incredible cast.

And then there are the directors, which is a list even more star-studded than the actors (well, "star-studded" for people who care about the people behing the camera even more than who's in front). It's an eclectic list, too, as Robert Connolly, Warwick Thornton (his first film directing work since Samson & Delilah), Justin Kurzel (of Snowtown fame), and Jonathan Auf der Heide rub shoulders with actors-turned-directors David Wenham, Simon Stone, and (most surprising) Mia Wasikowska. I can't wait to see what they have all come up with.

The poster, released alongside the trailer this week, features a beach-front campfire. Beach parties are a typical piece of imagery in Australian drama, especially in stories about youth and young adults. It also recalls to old adage of sitting around a campfire telling stories, which is apt for a film such as this. I appreciate that they didn't just go ahead and plaster all the actors' faces on there, but instead went with a piece of imagery that is meant to provoke a feeling and a context. It's not the greatest poster I've seen all year, but it gets the job done in a way that isn't entirely trite so let's call it a win.

Friday, June 21, 2013

50 Shades More Interesting with a Female Director

I have no genuine opinions of 50 Shades of Gray - I'm neither here nor there about the famous book and its notorious "mommy porn" tag. Don't get me wrong, it sounds like rubbish. Alas, I haven't read the book(s) and have no intention to. The movie adaptation, however, that has been going around in circles of circus sideshows ever since Bret Easton Ellis tried to get on board is another matter altogether. From what I've heard, the book is about a woman taking control of her sex life and pursues sexual desire, which we all know is something that scares Hollywood and filmmakers in general. Remember the hubbub that occurred when Blue Valentine was rated NC17 for (as was widely assumed) a scene of female sexual gratification? Yeah, that. And so much more.

The announcement of a director for the project suddenly took a turn for the curious now that Sam Taylor-Johnson has been hired for the job. Well, according to sources, but it seems fairly reliable. I haven't seen Taylor-Johnson's first feature, the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, but the mere fact that it is a female director has raised my interest in the whole endeavour. It's a rare day indeed when a female director gets given the chance to direct such a high profile project, so there's much to be interested about. I'll be going in blind whenever it finally reaches cinemas (and if it looks even halfway decent enough to warrant a ticket) so I hope she takes the reigns and can make something of it.

However, my biggest interest in the project now spins back to the participation of Bret Easten Ellis. I remember when another controversial novel was adapted for the screen with a female director at the healm and it turned out to be one of the greatest films of the 2000s. That'd be Mary Harron's film version of Ellis' American Psycho. Both books share highly sexualised content and weathered critical storms (albeit at different ends of the spectrum). Of course, 50 Shades of Gray has sold a lot more copies than American Psycho ever did with its brown paper bag covering, but I think the comparison is fare. If Sam Taylor-Johnson is able to turn EL James' book into something tangible then more power to her. Of course, I personally think Ellis' book is excellent so perhaps the material says more to me than it does others. Hollywood has been making a fortune off of turning great literature into bad cinema for decades, is it too much to hope for the reverse once in a while? And, hey, there are ways to turn trite lurid prose into provocative lurid cinema. I'm sure it can be done. I mean, sure, I would be more confident if it were Paul Verhoeven since he has such a great track record with that sort of stuff, but a female director who is married to a man half her age (and who took her name) must be confident and in tune with some sort of sexual level that hopefully she can recreate on screen.

Now, if Taylor-Johnson goes ahead and casts husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the lead? That'd be kind of icky. He's a good looking man, but I don't need their sex life portrayed on film, thanks. Can they cast Christian Bale circa 2000 instead?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Devious Maids

Can somebody tell me why somebody isn't out there in the Australian film industry trying to adapt some of these plays that companies are bringing to local theatregoers? Maybe it's just because this year has been a rather empty in regards to local films, but I have been infinitely more excited about this trailer for the Sydney Theatre Company's performance of The Maids than any film. I know any film adaptation would struggle to get a cast as amazing as Cate Blanchett, Isabelle Huppert, and Elizabeth Debecki (well, they could certainly get Debecki). The latter's name you may not know, but she was so fabulous as Jordan in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby that one wishes F Scott Fitzgerald had written more for her to do back in the 1920s (or that Luhrmann had taken a bit of creative license and made her a part of the film's climax in some way).

The play by Jean Genet was adapted once into a film in 1974 with Susannah York and Glenda Jackson, but as far as I am aware it's not very well known and it never received any awards attention so it probably isn't as good as the original material's reputation might suggest. That just makes the prospect of modern day adaptation all the more tantalising of a prospect. And, just by the way, adapting a famous international work whether it be a play or a book would certainly help with getting distributor attention across the globe. America and the UK adapt works from across borders all the time. And, hey, you got Isabelle Huppert to visit Australia to perform in the play, who says she wouldn't be willing to come back for a film version?

This promo trailer for the production (which features a new Australian adaptation, just by the way) is even filmed in a way that could be mistaken for a film trailer. There's certainly moments that look more interested in representing the material in a way that wouldn't possibly have the same effect on stage. The image below is just one instance - although looking at the way the stage is set up, it appears that there is a large screen hovering above the stage that allows the production to do certain things with lighting and staging that a play typically could not.

I dunno. I just wish Australian filmmakers were a bit more adventurous with what they choose to bring to the screen. I wasn't the biggest fan in the world, but Unfinished Sky from several years ago, adapted from a 1998 Dutch film, showed a keener awareness than one might initially think. Mostly, of course, I'm just really jealous that people in Sydney get to see this play and I don't, and isn't that what adapting theatre to the screen is all about?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tony Tony Tony Awards (Brief Thoughts)

Today, over at The Film Experience, I look at Cyndi Lauper's win at last night's Tony Awards and what it means for her chances of claiming the EGOT. Basically, she's close if only she'd embrace writing songs for film more often than not. I think she could easily win an Oscar and complete the quad of entertainment industry awards, but she needs to try a bit harder than stuff like (the admittedly very awesome, but so not Oscar material) "Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)" from Lauper's only attempt at leading lady status, Vibes.

Gosh, watching that music video is rather scary, isn't it? I have no idea what Vibes is all about from watching it, but I suspect there's a lot of racist representations of Asian culture. I'm not surprised to read that Cyndi was a bit embarrassed by the whole and stopped performing it until audiences in (where else?) Australia were so insistent. The song was a hit here and New Zealand and nowhere else, but considered a well-known under-appreciated gem by fans.

Speaking of the Tony Awards though, I definitely think my favourite part of the ceremony (which, just by the way, is the breeziest award show around, especially with Neil Patrick Harris at the helm) was the musical number as performed by Harris, Megan Hilty, Andrew Rannells, and Laura Benanti in an ode to Broadway stars and their cancelled television series. Smash, The New Normal, and Go On respectively. Take a look and try not to agree with me.

Okay, so if you said the opening number or the Pippin performance were better then I wouldn't argue. I would if you said the Matilda one was, though. That performance was meant to get me into the theatre, wasn't  it? Yikes. I still love this moment there with its trifecta of NBC stars on stage at a CBS-affiliated award show singing about the hardships of being on series that networks consider the runt of the litter. All four performers were amazing, although Benanti's drunken taken on "The Ladies Who Lunch" was a particularly hoot - "both my shows were cancelled, it's true / no show (hah hah), not one show, but two!" -  and, yes, Andrew Rannells (a Grammy winner already, maybe he's on his way to EGOT thirty years down the line if he keeps doing theatre, television, and film) was looking majorly dapper. That had nothing to do with my enjoyment of the piece though. No, none at all. What? Stop looking at me like that.

Sidebar - how strange was it that multiple Smash cast-members were in the front row? Good on the theatre community for not shunning them and the series that at least attempted to bring Broadway to audiences on more than one night a year. Cheers all 'round, I say.

Dolly Parton by Andy Warhol?

Friday, June 7, 2013

39 Stupid Moments from Texas Chainsaw 3D

As is my usual disposition, I eventually got around to seeing the latest entry in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. I had so wanted to see it in cinemas, especially given the 3D gimmick that should have at least added a little added novelty to a film that seemed to be offering nothing that the recent "remake" and its prequel didn't already give us. It has to this day gone unreleased in Australia and I missed its US release by a month or so. I finally caught up with it following its release on home entertainment and the franchise's ratio of good to bad continues to slide down the wrong way. Making the film even more of a shame is that is positions itself as the one true direct sequel to Tobe Hooper's 1974 original. If they hadn't have bothered with that needless twist on the franchise then Texas Chainsaw 3D (no "massacre" for some unnecessary reason) then John Luessenhop's film would have been inessential but hardly an offence of filmmaking. As it stands, the direct link to Hooper's masterpiece causes all sort of problems of narrative, drama, and general old fashioned storytelling. It's a mess.

Texas Chainsaw 3D (no 3D on this DVD, which itself raises a whole world of problems) is 91 minutes long and there is almost always - and I repeat, always - something incredibly stupid happening on screen during every single one of them. Why 39? Well, the film doesn't really warrant all that much mental energy put on it so I gave up at that number. Still, I live with the comfort provided by knowing I put in more of an effort than the filmmakers. Spoilers abound, believe me.

1. The opening credits are layered across scenes of Tobe Hooper's 1974 original as filtered through an Instagram filter, which I presume was meant to get the audience into the atmospheric state of dread that the original dwelled in to such powerful effect. I imagine the filmmakers thought doing this would give them a leg up, allowing Hooper's film to do the work that they knew they were incapable of. Sadly, it just lays the groundwork for disappointment by so overtly referencing how great the original was. Even in these near context-free snippets it's genuinely hard not to be creeped out. Shame the director seemingly hadn't even seen the original to figure out what the hell made it so creepy.

Introducting Tremaine 'Trey Songz' Neverson as... Terry McMinn's butt?

2. I'm sorry, but what is a "Trey Songz"? Okay, I'm being facetious - I know that Trey Songz is a singer of some sort, although I wouldn't be able to recognise any of his songs if you asked me to. Apparently he has five albums under his belt, which is news to me. But, then, I don't generally listen to the radio anymore so I wouldn't have the slightest idea what the hell he even sings.

3. Their plan to revitalise the memory of Hooper's film fails them dismally the moment they cut to the new film proper. This movie has been filmed in appalling unattractive digital that performs a complete 180 to the intent, aesthetic, and effect of Daniel Pearl's cinematography of 1974. Where the original worked so hard and yet looked so effortless in creating its sense of realistic, sun-drenched terror, this sequel's camera work by Anastas Michos is incredibly unforgiving to the creation of mood as well as to the sets in general which never look anything other than fake.

In fact, the cinematography is, perhaps, the film's biggest biggest failure. These films demand atmosphere, but it's hard to have that when the middle of a country night is lit by floodlights. There's a joke to be made in the cinematographer's name being credited alongside one of the most terrifying moments from the original film, too, but I'm not going to make it since I'm already heaping so much scorn upon it. Look, far be it from me to suggest how a filmmaker should have done something, but wouldn't it have made more sense to feature this 1974 flashback prologue in the same sort of rough hand-held style? At least would have made the transition somewhat easier, I think,

4. I guess given the film's problems with such concepts as time and logic (which we will get to soon) I'm surprised they even remembered to have the empty semi-truck on the road, the swing in the front garden, and the saw marks in the front door.  I do question whether this small, hick-filled Texas town would have an African American sheriff. Anyone?

5. Not sure where all these Sawyer family residents came from, but wouldn't it make sense for them to lay low until the "Texas chain saw massacre" stories have subsided before then carrying on the family tradition that they're all so very proud of?

6. Bad visual effects, bad.

7. This is Paul Rae as "Burt Hartman". When he appears again later in the movie you will notice that he hasn't aged.

Just one of many moments where it becomes obvious Texas Chainsaw exists in a universe where time doesn't exist in the same way as it does on Earth.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Drive like a Maniac

It was just last month that we were discussing the festival sales poster for Greg McLean's Wolf Creek 2 blatantly ripping off the design of the Evil Dead remake from earlier in the year (not to mention the earlier startling reappropriation of the Prom Night poster in the design for Patrick remake). Well, now another high profile horror flick has gone and unashamedly mimicked another film's poster for their own game. This poster for Maniac, which is finally getting a release even though it feels like it's been around for years, is so obviously trying to replicate Drive that the mind boggles.

This time it's even stranger though, since I had already commented in my Maniac review that the film's opening scene seems to have been lifted beat for beat from that of Drive. The bass-heavy soundtrack, the night-time Los Angeles car cruising, and the heavily stylised European look were so glaringly obvious that it was downright off-putting (much like a lot of the rest of the film). And now the poster? Hmmm. It all seems remarkably fishy. If people have already noticed the similarities, why would you then go and create a poster that evokes Drive as well? 

Especially disappointing is that the poster for Maniac that I had seen just prior to this one was incredible.

This is actually how it's done, folks. It's thematically relevant, sure, but it is disturbing and inventive and it pulls the unique trick of requiring the viewer to take more than a single look. It's just a shame all the other posters have been so disappointing and in today's case just a bit ridiculous.

Travelling the Mystery Road

Ivan Sen's Dreamland remains the best film I can recall having seen that never actually got a release. When the end of the decade comes along and we're discussing the best films of the last ten years, Dreamland will be there right towards the tippity top and it will have never been seen by more than a few hundred people. What a crying shame. No, really, if I had properly functioning tear ducts I would probably cry over this (alas, my infamous inability to cry at the drop of the cinematic hat permits me from doing so). I saw it at its Melbourne International Film Festival screenings in 2010 on opening day and it remained the strongest film I saw for the entire festival. I heard rumblings that it was being re-edited into a more conventional picture, but I shudder to think at Sen's hypnotic, spiritual, experimental, elliptical masterpiece being tinkered and tailored into something more traditional. This article at Inside Film mentions a St Tropez festival screening as well as a very limited release in Paris, France, so hopefully a few more people out there had a similar reaction to mine.

I bring this up because the trailer for Sen's next film has been released. Mystery Road has several elements of Dreamland that made me recall that earlier film. Elements like Tasma Walton (now given the chance to speak more than one or two line) and the barren open space of the desert (Australia rather than New Mexico's area 51 this time). Those are, however, the only similarities. In fact, the trailer for Sen's pseudo-western reminds me more of the Australian film I saw directly after Dreamland - Patrick Hughes' Red Hill. This genre has sort of popped up in the Australian industry since - and please correct me if I'm wrong - John Hillcoat's The Proposition made such a splash in 2005. It also helps that our landscape really adheres itself to these raw, stripped versions of the genre.

Sen's Mystery Road has been quite heavily buzzed and I wish I was at the Sydney Film Festival see its premiere (it is the opening night selection). I wasn't too keen on Toomelah, the film he made between Dreamland and Mystery Road, and I'm super keen to see what he does with the genre elements and that wonderful cast. Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten (who coincidentally starred in Red Hill), Jack Thompson, David Field, Tom Barry, Robert Mammone, Roy Billing, Bruce Spence, and even the seemingly long lost Zoe Carides make up a wonderful cast (most of which are barely glimpsed or not at all in the trailer). Not just them, but there's also a Blue Heelers reunion with Tasma Walton and Damian Walshe-Howling. I wonder if local press will at all pick up on that or if it's just my Blue Heelers loving self who's excited for that.

There is always a "rookie cop out of his depth", isn't there?
It will be interesting to see how Sen responds to the more mainstream-baiting elements at work here, or whether it's just a trailer skewed at getting a few more bums in seats by marketing it as something closer to a thriller than it really is. If the film is good, like I suspect it might, then I hope it finds an audience. I think Sen is one of the most vital filmmakers in this country - my issues with Toomelah had nothing to do with his artistic credibility; he made a final directorial achievement with it - and while a film with that cast and that story have no chance of falling into the abyss ala Dreamland, it might be nice if he struck upon a hit and allowed that previous film to finally see the light of day.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Five Observations About the Trailer for Insidious: Chapter 2

I was a big fan of James Wan's original Insidious. I thought it did a lot of things right that so many similar films do wrong - for instance, it had a score that was incredibly effective, and it rather easily got around the whole haunted house issue of "well, why don't you just leave?" - but it did have its problems. I just watched the trailer for Insidious: Chapter 2 and here's some thoughts.

1. Wait, didn't somebody die at the end of the original Insidious? I could've sworn they did.

2. Hopefully the success of the original convinced the financiers to give Wan enough money to actually make a third act that isn't just set in a black room with some floating sheets and dry ice. Hopefully.

3. I'm never much a fan of scary children, but I'm totally okay with children that make evil circle them. Because children are evil. Some of the mystery figures that populate this trailer look creepy as all get out and I can't wait. Gas masks are never not scary, you know?

4. Nice to see Barbara Hershey's same face is still on there. That's a sequel we do not need.

5. Friday the 13th, you guys! Always a solid excuse to watch a stretch of horror films at a time. Also, despite having seen several horror movies already at the cinema since moving to America (way more than I had in Australia in recent times since, as I've mentioned before, they so rarely get released there) none were on opening night. I'm thinking a trip to go see Insidious: Chapter 2 on Friday the 13th is definitely on the cards. I hope it's mad like the opening scene of Scream 2. Just, you know, without all the chop chop.

Blanche Devereaux: The Movie

Did you see that The Golden Girls was only ranked no. 69 on the WGA's list of the 101 best television series of all time? While there's some appropriate comic value to be found in a show as sexually liberated as The Golden Girls ranking at that position on the chart, there's also the glaringly obvious fact that it is insanely too low. As Blanche Devereaux would say...

I am assuming that since this is the WGA's list they are ranking their list in order of "best written" shows and not simply "best shows", although some of the other rankings make me think otherwise. Twin Peaks (no. 35) for as much as I covet it is surely more of a directorial achievement, especially given the second series' infamous descent into kooksville that happened once David Lynch more or less left the show for other projects. Likewise, how do shows like Dexter (no. 67) show up higher when it got dull from a writing perspective after only several seasons. And as much as I love Sex and the City (no. 39), like Modern Family (no. 34), and casually enjoy Everybody Love's Raymond (no. 63), I refuse to believe that any professional writer would hold them in higher esteem than the groundbreaking, uncharted, side-splitting laughs of The Golden Girls. Or, for that matter, the equally groundbreaking, uncharted, side-splitting laughs of Roseanne (no. 72), Murphy Brown (no. 74), and Absolutely Fabulous (no. 92). Apparently there are 68 series better written than this:

Of course, as per usual, the list is filled with titles that were initially met with lack of enthusiasm like The Wire (no. 9), Arrested Development (no. 16 - I wonder if that would be lower if they'd seen the much-maligned season 4?), Friday Night Lights (no. 23), and Battlestar Galactica (no. 38 - remember how it was only nominated for one WGA award in its five seasons, and Mary McDonnell never received a single Emmy, Golden Globe, or SAG nomination?) which isn't to say they don't deserve it (they certainly do; it's one of the benefits of lists), but that's the nature of art. They certainly deserve to be there more than, oh, The Good Wife (no. 50) and Downton Abbey (no. 43). And if you're going to freely acknowledge mainstream procedurals like House (no. 75), I don't see why The Closer couldn't find a ranking.

Once again.

That little introduction ended up being far longer than I had expected. However, speaking of Blanche Devereaux (yes, this blog was originally meant to be about something else entirely and barely even related to that oh betwixt nightingale of a southern belle, but now can one resist going off on such a tangent?), I saw Jezebel this last weekend at MoMA and it's basically Blanche Devereaux: The Movie.

William Wyler's 1938 film hailed itself as "the greatest romance in the south", but then a year later Gone with the Wind came along so it didn't hold the mantle for too long. It doesn't help that, despite the incredible Bette Davis performance at its centre, the film isn't very good. It's a perfectly nice confection of hoop skirts, cotillion balls, and exaggerated emotions, but in the end it lacks the weight of another Davis romance, Now Voyager, or the aforementioned Gone with the Wind. It's the story of a woman who is strong-willed, unashamed in her womanhood, and rallies against societal norms like, er, wearing a red dress to a ball where unmarried women always wear white (I guess women didn't have all that much to scandalise with at the time) who then finds herself losing the man she loves due to her own stubbornness. Stupid woman, obvs lol!

I enjoyed Jezebel in fits and flourishes - I especially loved when Davis' Julie stands her ground against the potential of being hit with a can by her brash fiancée, or when Julie admits her wiser perception of the world with quotes like "I'm sorry, I forgot I'm a child. I'm not supposed to know about things like [red light district] Gallatan Street. I'm just supposed to flutter around in white," but then she will turn around and act like the very character she seems to be fighting against.

Still, apart from Bette Davis' Oscar-winning performance, the best thing about Jezebel are the humorous similarities between Julie and Blanche Devereaux as played by Rue McClanahan. All the odes to the old south and its traditions (hatin' on the Yankees and flitting between courting bachelors, basically) mingled with the feisty personality and sexually risque attitudes that are somewhat cover-ups for a more fragile personality.  Blanche is even called a "jezebel" (in comical, if derogatory fashion) several times throughout the series. It's all there. I like to imagine Blanche's mother was a fan of the movie and raised her daughters accordingly. Maybe, to quote one of my favourite lines from the '80s smash sitcom, "her mother was a slut, too." Much like the mountain due on the honeysuckle as the golden sun rises over the majestic Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River, that bringer of energy and salvation, Blanche is a Jezebel loud and proud. Now, wouldn't Blanche Devereaux: The Movie make a much more entertaining enterprise? I think so.