Movie News

AICN-Downunder: Elektra; Long Tan; Sideways; A Very Long Engagement; Alexander the Great; I Heart Huckabees; Wolf Creek

Published at: Jan. 15, 2005, 11:07 a.m. CST by staff

Father Geek here with the latest from the Upside-down land downunder, where winter is summer and the future is the past, or something like that...

I'm a fingerprint on the window of a skyscraper.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

With Summer drawing to a close (and most of us in Melbourne wondering where the hell Summer was in the first damn place), it's good to follow up pat sentence beginnings with a generic closing statement to cover the fact you don't have a good opening statement.

I took a road trip up north which was planned to be relaxing, but instead ended up being an endurance test to see if I could make it to my destinations on time without pesky interferences like eating and sleeping. Now returned, I'm trying to catch up on as many flicks as I can. On with the show...

NEWS

* It's good to kick off the year with high expectations, and none seem to be higher than first-time producer Martin Walsh. Walsh is planning to film the Battle of Long Tan (best known from its existence in the hit police action Vietnam) with a budget of up to $23 million, unheard of for an Australian production. With playwright and screenwriter Louis Nowra signed on to pen the script, Walsh is hoping to bring Russell Crowe, Eric Bana, Hugh Jackman, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown on board. I suppose that would explain where the $23 million is going... Walsh is looking for a big-name director in the realms of Phillip Noyce, Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford or, er, David Caesar. More on this when we hear it...

Trusty news source Lennox has let us know that Baz Luhrmann is *still* planning to make his ALEXANDER THE GREAT picture, despite Leo opting out. If the man finds funding for his script, I'll be mighty impressed. Or not. Baz recently became a father when his wife gave birth to their first child, despite the fact that Oliver Stone fathered at least two children yeeeeears ago...

* BEING IN THE NICK OF TIME: the most grammatically-questionable title since CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, or a US-backed time travel movie being prepped for a Gold Coast shoot? If you chose one of the above options, you are fifty per cent correct. Auditions will start later this month, with "Farscape" actress Virginia Hey potentially up for a role. Director Geoffrey Brown and writer Paul David Grover both hail from the US, and will shoot the project on HD.

* It's been well-reported, but it's worth mentioning: Australian horror film WOLF CREEK has been picked up for over three million dollars by Miramax, who have yet to put the VHS in the machine and see what they've purchased. Pretty ballsy; I won't even buy a DVD unless I've seen it and know it's high quality. The film, loosely based on the notorious Ivan Milat serial killings from a few years back, features genial lifestyle program host John Jarratt as the killer.

* If you're seeing a film on the morning of January 23rd, you might be inadvertently helping some people out. Most cinema chains are devoting the proceeds from tickets sold for sessions that morning to Care Australia, benefiting the victims of the tsunami in Asia.

AWARDS AND FESTIVALS

2ND ANGRY FILM FESTIVAL

The Melbourne-based short film festival is on again. While I missed the first one, I'm told it was very successful and I plan to attend the next. A venue for the April screening hasn't been locked down yet, but if you're looking to enter you'll want to be sending along your work to:

The 2nd Angry Film Festival

16 Salisbury Street

Newport 3015 Melbourne, Australia

Your film should be under fifteen minutes, and any genre will be accepted provided the film itself is entertaining. Make sure you've sent your stuff off before the February 24 deadline.

BOX OFFICE

It's Summer holiday fare, with kids being either stimulated (THE INCREDIBLES) or insulted (RACING STRIPES) depending on the quality of guardianship. Have I pissed enough people off? Excellent!

Here's what made the cash...
  • 1. MEET THE FOCKERS
  • 2. THE INCREDIBLES
  • 3. THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE
  • 4. RACING STRIPES
  • 5. LADDER 49

RELEASED THIS WEEK

Silvio Soldini releases his fan-crazy sequel to BREAD AND TULIPS, a potential tragedy merely evokes the Greek kind, a new documentary refutes outlandish internet claims that Tommy Ramone is still alive, and Liam Neeson finally succumbs to pressure and gets his kit off.

Here's what's new...
  • AGATA AND THE STORM
  • ELEKTRA
  • END OF THE CENTURY: THE STORY OF THE RAMONES
  • KINSEY

REVIEWS

As I'm not going to review, I'd just like to give a brief shout-out to LEMONY SNICKET'S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS, which I caught late last year. If you haven't seen it and you're disappointed at the state of children's films outside of Pixar, go. Go now. It's as beautiful as any film I've seen in the past year, and its darkness brought back memories of the great Roald Dahl, and, in some small part, Enid Blyton and Hugh Lofting. I'm hoping for more.

I HEART HUCKABEES

This is a very strange film. Very strange. I mean, Mark Wahlberg is actually really good. How weird is that? I'm suddenly remembering BOOGIE NIGHTS again, as if some secret compartment has opened up after years of being wedged closed by PLANET OF THE APES, THE PERFECT STORM and THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE. Wahlberg is excellent.

Good thing too, because Jason Schwartzman is better than he was in RUSHMORE, Jude Law and Naomi Watts give far better than they could have got away with, and Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin are as note-perfect as you expect them to be. These six characters, along with Isabelle Huppert's Caterine, are some of the most engaging, interesting characters. Their dilemmas, which could easily have been depicted in an uninteresting, offhand, narcissistic way are all fascinating. I cared about all of them.

The most interesting one is the central idea, the thing that sparks off the story itself. Schwartzman's character Albert visits two existential detective for hope in explaining a "coincidence". He saw the same person three times over and wants to know what it means. The richness in that idea... I mean, it hooked me right away. Is there anything behind it? Even if there isn't, what's the deal with Albert in that he's fixated on it? Beyond that, who are these people that they can "solve" his problem? Two nights ago I was at work, and saw a girl who works nearby. The next morning I ran into her in the middle of the city, just walked right passed her. Normally I would put that down to the fact that we are all connected and run into these people all the time and we only notice them occasionally, but writers David O. Russell and Jeff Baena had worked their way into my brain, and I suddenly wanted this coincidence explained.

It's not a film about nothing. It's not the result of an excess of espressos (as David Stratton remarked). It's about the interconnectedness of all things, and the simultaneous futility of it all. It presents us with ideas we don't even know we're being presented with, and then uses seemingly random events to explore them further. It's a rich, rich film, and while it may possibly owe a lot to my favourite book, "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" (by Douglas Adams), it's going places we rarely - if ever - see on film.

A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT

LEMONY SNICKET would have blown me away even more if I hadn't been completely unfair to it and seen THE INCREDIBLES a few hours later. CATWOMAN, a film I had no expectations of, was by no means the worst film I saw that day, as I walked into the stunningly-overrated SHARK TALE a few minutes later. Last week, I saw the brilliant I HEART HUCKABEES, and then blew it out of the water by walking into A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT not one hour later.

AMELIE was a brilliant, beautiful film. It is, perhaps, the best example of heart being a totally different thing to sentiment. Amelie herself was perfect; beautiful, vulnerable, devious and heart-wrenching. One of the best things about the film - the glorious asides and digressions into histories and characters and histories of characters - was executed better, even, than RUN LOLA RUN. As much as I enjoyed those deviations in AMELIE, I wasn't looking for it in ENGAGEMENT, and when the opening scene did that very thing with five different characters, I nearly rolled my eyes.

Nearly.

A friend pointed out recently that it's a detective story, and he's right. That's exactly what it is. It's also the perfect follow-up to AMELIE. Because we are all expecting the cute asides that Jeunet does, we assume that it's more cuteness to fill up the running time. Of course, if we're paying proper attention, we realise that every detail we are given is vital to the story. Mathilde is searching for her fiancé, and every little clue takes her in a different direction. Jeunet must have laughed for days after reading the novel by Sébastien Japrisot, realising how perfect a project it is for him and how perfectly-situated it is in his career.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet has almost begun his filmography from scratch. As much as I love DELICATESSAN, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and even ALIEN RESURRECTION, it's an entirely new career he's embarked upon with his latest works.

It's apt that he looks like the French Terry Gilliam, as his directorial detail is as rich as the Python's. Things don't just look beautiful for the sake of looking beautiful; they have meaning. The colours force you to recollect previous characters and incidents, the manner in which an object is placed on a table will later become of vital importance, the colour of the sky and the direction of the wind forces comparisons with the plight of the characters they affect.

This is the film you show that annoying friend who "doesn't like films with subtitles". This is the film that COLD MOUNTAIN wasn't. This is a film every bit worthy of AMELIE.

SIDEWAYS

So begins the season of post-Christmas Oscar baiting. Australia generally gets the best arthouse flicks from the tail end of the previous year in January, and while it's a vaguely frustrating wait, it's always welcome.

SIDEWAYS, billed as a dick flick in the hopes of sparking a new genre, is, in my humble opinion, Alexander Payne's best work. I've not seen CITIZEN RUTH, but I enjoyed ELECTION and ABOUT SCHMIDT. Both were complex character studies, painful at times and hilarious at others. SIDEWAYS is the first one of Payne's films I've seen that I've truly loved. It's his most affectionate look at a character, never threatening to devolve into schmaltz or saccharine, always maintaining believability. The wine metaphor works perfectly, but it isn't the best allegory in the piece. No, it's the differences and similarities between Miles and Jack, the comparison between the two seemingly-opposite friends, that is the most interesting aspect of the film.

Paul Giamatti, apparently playing Richard Schiff's younger brother, is at career best here. Even better than his phenomenal work in AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Giamatti characterises Miles in a way I think few other actors could. It strikes a chord because it's one of those rare, honest performances. It's a character you can honestly believe exists, because of (not despite of) his flaws.

I'm finding it interesting at the point to stop and look back at what I've written so far. It seems strangely uninspired. In fact, I stopped after the last paragraph and scrolled down to write the ELEKTRA review. Why does this film - a film, I should point out, I've filed away for potential inclusion in my 2005 Best Of list - not want to make me write pages and pages? I mean, there's a lot to say about it. I suppose I don't like giving away certain things to those who might not have seen it. One of the great joys of the film was discovering the subtexts and metaphors that would constantly work their way through and around the narrative. Why would I want to deny someone the pleasure of discovering it themselves?

On the other hand, it is a small character study. I had the same problem with GARDEN STATE. That's a film that *did* make my 2004 Best Of list, yet I found very little I could write about. If was writing a full-blown analysis of these films, I could go on for pages and pages at a time, but I'm not. I'm writing a review for those who might not have seen it. There's more to write about when discussing the background of, say, a new Marvel film - particularly on this site and for this readership - because there's a history and certain expectations, certainly more expectations and pre-release interest than was experienced by SIDEWAYS, but I could not write an analysis of ELEKTRA. Well, I could, but I'd be relying on the obvious and oft-mentioned Greek tragedy parallels.

So, without telling you too much, without giving anything away, without spoiling your potential enjoyment of the film and its excesses of small treasures, I will simply say this: see it. It's one of the best and most enjoyable character studies you'll likely come across.

ELEKTRA

The Marvel backlash was bound to happen. After being on such a high with X-MEN, SPIDER-MAN, and the sequels they spawned, it was inevitable that people would turn against the company. Oddly, the backlash coincided with the myriad of crap films Marvel began to make...

I am one of the very few who liked HULK. No, I didn't like it, I LOVED it. I thought it was art. I'm comfortable being in the extreme minority on that one, it's fine. DAREDEVIL I thought would have been a fairly good film if it had actually contained a third act. PUNISHER was as close to unwatchable as a comic book adaptation can get. I mean, it was purely turgid. That was the point at which I realised the brief golden age of Marvel adaptations was definitely over. A month or so back I turned down an offer to walk the red carpet with Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds and David Goyer because it would have meant that, once reaching the end of the carpet, I would have had to sit through BLADE TRINITY, and that prospect did not appeal to me. (Fair enough, I wouldn't have been Biel's arm candy, I would have been in the press rabble being herded by a blue heeler, but I can still make it sound like I'm cool.)

ELEKTRA showed promise. For starters, Rob Bowman isn't half bad at pointing a Bolex. THE X-FILES MOVIE was a terrific TV show-to-cinema adaptation, and REIGN OF FIRE is fairly underrated. Also, the film featured Terence Stamp, who, studies have shown, can raise the coolness factor of a film by an average of ten per cent.

The surprising this is that, while the film could have easily been a cheap knockoff designed to get Garner fans to buy tickets, they actually let a writer near the material. The first half of the film is a character piece, containing very little action relative to other comic book films (SPIDER-MAN 2 notwithstanding). Elektra is portrayed as someone deeply affected by the events of DAREDEVIL; the subtle way in which the film is acknowledged without getting bogged down in sideways winks is expertly-handled. There is no Daredevil cameo in the film. I was initially hoping for one, but I'm now glad it wasn't in there. It would have thrown it off-balance. Besides, Elektra is clearly more affected by her father's death in the previous film than her relationship with Murdoch, and that's how it should be.

Garner's performance is nuanced and complex. It's what elevates the film from being more than just a grrl power sock-it-to-the-blokes. She handles the action equally well, and never seems embarrassed to be in a mere comic book movie. Garner gives the film the credibility that makes it work.

Well, most of it.

If only the same amount of thought had been given to the villains. Elektra's nemeses are stock standard Asian stereotypes that appear to have been transplanted from a 1950s propaganda piece. Their high rise building even has a frigging Chinese hut attached the top. If the main bad guy (who is so inconsequential, I doubt the actor even received a paycheque) had started singing "I'm So Ronery", it might have worked. Unfortunately, the bad guys are as unengaging as Elektra is interesting. You'll be left wondering who the hell they were, what the hell they wanted, and why the hell you should care.

The second half of the film goes into the necessary action that is required. While the character development of the first half doesn't disappear (notable exception: McCabe's random and pointless martyrdom), it takes a back seat as Elektra is forced to take them all out. As a side note, one of the things that impressed me most was the character of Mark Miller (Goran Visnjic). While the romance between he and Elektra is rather contrived, they don't make him into a fist-wielding tough guy so he doesn't get too overshadowed by the girl. I can't recall a single instance of him fighting; a smart choice by the filmmakers.

Ultimately, ELEKTRA could have been much better. If the villains and their motivation had been given the care and attention that the good guys had received, we might have had another Marvel film that could notch itself up with the best of them. What we have, though, is a film that will probably forever reside in the middle. A respectable divider between the highs of SPIDER-MAN and the lows of DAREDEVIL, the successes of X-MEN and the failure of THE PUNISHER.

NEXT WEEK

- Richard Linklater preps BEFORE SUNTAN, featuring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy on their honeymoon discussing their weddings whilst lying on a Hawaiian beach

- Joel Schumacher once again counts his blessing for returning to non-commercial honest filmmaking as he goes into production on the Alicia Silverstone-starring sequel THE FANTA OF THE OPERA

- William Friedkin, on instructions from his managers, weds new Paramount CEO Brad Grey

Peace out,

Latauro

AICNDownunder@hotmail.com

Readers Talkback

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  • Jan. 15, 2005, 1:06 p.m. CST

    Can't wait to see Wolf Creek

    by theoneofblood

    Maybe for once I can think of the Australian film industry and refrain from weeping.

  • Jan. 15, 2005, 1:55 p.m. CST

    Wow, could this actually be a positive Elektra review?

    by caerlas

    CNN had one too. Why so late in the game?

  • Jan. 15, 2005, 2:02 p.m. CST

    Don't feel loney, Lat, I like Hulk too.

    by raw_bean

    LOVE it, even. Actually, since we seem to have similar opinions of most comic book films, I think I'll give Elektra a go on your modestly positive review. Although of course, I WILL kill you if it turns out to be shit. :^)

  • Jan. 15, 2005, 3:01 p.m. CST

    Hulk was crap.

    by Lou C.

    For me, at least. I liked the use of comic book pages, I liked the casting, I thought the Hulk looked good. Bottom line is, though, it was boring. The whole beginning was a long, dull setup with banal dialogue. I like that it wanted to be more character-based and dialogue friendly, it's just that the dialogue sucked balls.

  • Jan. 15, 2005, 4 p.m. CST

    Neeson.

    by joe brady

    Apparently, he dropped out of "The Proposition" at the last minute. To do what, I wonder? Also, if I could get away with spelling the word "check" as "cheque", I would totally do it all the time. As it is, I can't even spell "color", "colour". Life's not fair.

  • Jan. 16, 2005, 12:08 a.m. CST

    Funny, I kinda figured John Jarratt already was a serial killer.

    by Monkey Butler

    C'mon, I dare someone to say that the old Better Homes & Gardens wasn't slightly off. An Joe Brady, an increasing number of people here are writing color instead of colour, so there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to use proper english in America.

  • Jan. 16, 2005, 2:17 a.m. CST

    I'm REALLY looking forward to "HULK 2" ... as Ang Lee's original

    by JDanielP

    Sure, "HULK" was a bit long ... almost completely humorless, with the direction (of the film) a bit off from where most fans desired to venture. But you have to give Ang Lee credit for attempting to "raise the bar" of how serious you can interpret such a fantasy character and his comic book roots, .... whether that be the HULK or any other comic book character or superhero. Really, how dare we fault Ang Lee for that?! -- I think we owe the man a HUGE round of applause and a BIG FAT "THANK YOU!!!!" -- Personally, I think if the film was just a bit more streamlined ... with the scenes of the Hulk fighting the military being EXPANDED ... and by cutting the scene's of Bruce's father being physically altered and the climatic battle (between them) ... then maybe you'll see a HULK MASTERPIECE coming into focus. -- Here's to having high hopes for the sequel!

  • Jan. 16, 2005, 3:49 a.m. CST

    Apparently John Jarratt is Quentin Tarantino's favourite Aussie

    by Cash Bailey

    When he was here for KILL BILL he invited Jarratt and director Richard Franklin to the premiere and fanboy-ed all over them. Wh knows, maybe we'll see him in in INGLORIOUS BASTARDS. That'd be cool.

  • Jan. 16, 2005, 11:25 a.m. CST

    I liked 'Hulk' too!

    by Ribbons

    Yay! We should start a support group. Seriously though, I did. I think that 'Daredevil' could have been good with a director like Alfonso Cuaron (does that seem out there? The entire movie seems like a piece on adolescence, plus he shoots pretty pictures), who probably would have had more tact than to introduce the Kingpin with an N.E.R.D. song. 'Tis a shame that Marvel Enterprises is getting bogged down in a mire of crappy films right about now, because they got off to such a great start. They're bleeding, but not moribund: at least there's still that 'Deathlok' script floating around out there somewhere, which is supposed to be pretty good.

  • Jan. 16, 2005, 11:37 a.m. CST

    HULK would be my second favorite Marvel (after X-2) if there was

    by Judge Doom

    Bruce Banner=great. CGI Hulk =fantastic! Much better than this Thing crap from FF.Betty Ross= Hubba-Hubba!. Now why put half of the damn movie centered on bruce's father, a character that not even apeared in any Hulk comic, and worst, turn him into a supervillain in the end?? That killed the movie.

  • Jan. 17, 2005, 2:23 a.m. CST

    Why does EVERYONE call it 'I heart huckabees" when it is clearly

    by TheGinger Twit

    Everyone is stupid. and so is HULK.

  • Jan. 17, 2005, 3:47 a.m. CST

    A group response...

    by Latauro

    By Summer's end, I meant my own personal holidays. Summer may still officially exist, but to me it's simply work-period-that's-very-hot. As for Hulk 2, I am not looking forward to it *because* I loved the first film. It bombed financially and critically, and they've spoken frequently about the sequel being more "action-oriented". Daredevil 2, more like... Ginger Twit, it's I Heart Huckabees. All the press material says so. imdb says so. David O Russell says so. Regarding the passion of the Passion review in the AICN-D Annual, yeah. I know. I managed to piss off both the people who love the film (by saying it was anti-semitic) and the people who hated it (by saying other than that, it was flawless). My intent was to provide a counter-counter argument, show people where I'm coming from. I admit I came off as preachier than I'd intended, but the fact remains that most of those talkbackers were jerks. Needless to say, I've put my dog into witness protection in case Mr Gibson comes after him. Hey, does anyone else think The Matrix sequels have anything to do with Zionist propaganda? No? Anyone?

  • Jan. 17, 2005, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Sideways has adult appeal

    by hatchling

    Perhaps it's not a movie the kiddies would relate to, but for those of us who have experienced some of life's hard knocks and disappointments, it's dead on target funny. The great characters are superbly portrayed by the acting ensemble, there's deft direction from Payne, a terrific script and enough nuance to intrigue. The wallet retrieval scene is one of the most hilarious I've seen in years... the audience was howling in laughter when I saw it.

  • Jan. 17, 2005, 11:42 a.m. CST

    GingerTwit

    by Ribbons

    When the marketing campaign specifically refers to the film as "I HEART Huckabee's" in commercial narrations, I'm pretty sure that it's "clearly" 'I Heart Huckabee's.' Pompous ass.

  • Jan. 17, 2005, 9:13 p.m. CST

    I appreciate that it's HEART.... but the original script was LOV

    by TheGinger Twit

    So there

  • Jan. 20, 2005, 3:40 a.m. CST

    Sideways

    by Marco_Xavier

    I enjoyed the film, slightly less than I did "Kinsey," but neither will find their way into my DVD collection like their predecessors did ("Election" & "Gods and Monsters"). However, my best friend loved "Sideways" to tears. Unfortunately, I think much of his enjoyment came from his perceiving strong similarities between myself and Paul Giamatti's character. Suddenly, I really miss being compared to Rob in "High Fidelity" instead...

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