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.
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...
* 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.
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
- 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
- END OF THE CENTURY: THE STORY OF THE RAMONES
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.
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 fiancÃ©, and every little clue takes her in a different direction. Jeunet must have laughed for days after reading the novel by SÃ©bastien 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.
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.
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.
- 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