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AICN-Downunder: Closer; 9 Songs; Ray; Aviator; Tanim; Finding Neverland; Hotel Rwanda; The Bet; Million Dollar Baby

Father Geek here, have to take Harry to see his Doc, but 1st here our weekly report from Downunder...

Howard, there's a rather alarming mountain heading our way.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

If there's one thing our extraordinary amount of rainfall - the most to fall in one day since records began in the 1800s - has proved, it's that the gods get angry when they don't get their AICN-Downunder fix.

Alas, 'twas a confluence of events that prevented this column from going to cable. AICN-D wishes Harold Tiberius Knowles a speedy recovery and many a sponge bath from naughty nurses.

In the meantime, it appears the new year will herald a change in the winds. Anyone who's read this column beyond the Next Week jokes and random accusations of anti-Semitism will know that AICN-D has been trying to alert its readers to the issue of censorship in Australia.

Michael Winterbottom's controversial sexually-charged NINE SONGS was given an X18+ certificate by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, thus making it impossible for theatrical release in Australia. Accent Films, the distributor, appealed the decision, and for the past several weeks many of us have been waiting with trepidation to hear the results of the Classification Review Board.

On January 17, the Board overturned the rating and classified the film R18+. NINE SONGS will be released in Australian theatres.

This is a major victory for the anti-censorship camp. The release date is still many weeks away, so while we wait for the foundations of society to crumble down around us, here is the news from the weeks that were...

NEWS

* CHARLOTTE'S WEB has begun shooting in Melbourne, and the suits are nervous. Why? Because in order to make the release date, the animators need to get working now, and in order to do that, a whole lot of landscapes need to be filmed. Execs have found themselves biting their nails as they watch rushes of the Australian landscape. Presumably, they'll lighten up a bit when Dakota arrives and starts acting at ping-pong balls attached to sticks.

* EUCALYPTUS, meanwhile, has had to delay its start date by a week, due to the extraordinary deluge we've recently received. The Crowe/Kidman film (which no longer stars Geoffrey Rush, despite the fact that it's still being widely reported) will begin lensing on the NSW mid-north coast barring any more summer downpours.

* Scooper "TP" sent in some casting info for the GHOST RIDER flick. It seems Angry Anderson is in talks for a small role in Mark Steven Johnston's film. Angry is known to most Australian audiences, and those outside the country might know him from the MAD MAX series.

* The FFC has announced funding for two feature films, both of which centre around true crime stories. SUBURBAN MAYHEM sounds like a risky venture, being a black comedy about a woman accused of killing her father. I'm laughing already. The film, written by Alice Bell, will be directed by AUSTRALIAN RULES helmer Paul Goldman. The other film, WRONG GIRL, focuses on a notorious gang rape case in Sydney. GIRL is written by Nicholas Hammond and will be directed by Michael Jenkins, of "Blue Murder" fame.

* Ana Kokkinos, the director behind the lauded HEAD ON, will begin production of her next feature THE BOOK OF REVELATION on February 28. The film, which will shoot in Melbourne, stars Tom Long (THE DISH), Greta Scacchi (THE PLAYER) and Colin Friels (DARK CITY). According to various sources, the film, which is adapted from Rupert Thomson's novel by Andrew Bovell, is: "An erotic mystery... a story about power and sex, the entanglement of victim and perpetrator, and a man's struggle to regain his lost self." So, a comedy then.

* Gillian Armstrong will next turn her directorial prowess to documentary A COLOURFUL LIFE, the subject of which is designer Florence Broadhurst. I don't know anything about Broadhurst, so here's hoping the documentary is an informative, intriguing revelation. The film is backed by Film Australia, Becker Entertainment and SBS Independent.

* THE BET, an indie film (is there any other kind in Australia?), begins its shoot this month in Sydney. The corporate drama, which focuses on all-consuming ambition, is to be helmed by actor Mark Lee.

* This is a brilliant note to end on. All of you in the Melbourne region need to head to the St Kilda film festival this Sunday (13/2) and bring a kissing partner. As part of a documentary on the meaning and mystery of the kiss, the festival is asking for 12 000 volunteers to do the lip mambo and break the Guinness world Record for most couples kissing simultaneously. For more info, head to www.stkildafestival.com.au/kiss.

AWARDS AND FESTIVALS

THE CATE AND GEOFFREY SHOW

Let's do a quick run-through on these, shall we? In addition to her Oscar nomination, Cate Blanchett has received a BAFTA nomination and won a Screen Actors Guild award for her phenomenal performance as Katherine Hepburn in THE AVIATOR. Geoffrey Rush, meanwhile, has won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award for his titular performance in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS. Seems like the key to the awards is to play famous actors, no? No less deserving of attention and publicity is Australian Hattie Dalton, who has received a British Academy Award nomination for her debut short THE BANKER.

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

The famous SxSW festival has announced the line-up for its Discoveries From Down Under program. Pip Mushin's JOSH JARMIN, Darren Ashton's THUNDERSTRUCK, and Cate Shortland's AFI-sweeping SOMERSAULT will screen at the American festival.

2005 IMAGINA AWARDS

Australian animated short BIRTHDAY BOY received a special jury prize at the festival in Monaco. The film, directed by Sejong Park, also received the award for best animated short at the Animex Student Animation Awards in England.

2ND INTERNATIONAL OCEANIA DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL

AICN-D is devoted to both Australia and New Zealand, so when a chance arises to sing the praises of both great islands, we jump at it. TANIM is a fifty-minute collaboration between the countries, and has just picked up the award for best contemporary documentary at the FIFO awards in Tahiti.

BOX OFFICE

There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that this is the annual pre-Oscar season. With the exception of spot three, Australia's gone into mega-serious mode with four of the biggest nominations. With THE AVIATOR and HIDE AND SEEK out next week, expect at least a couple of these to disappear. In the meantime, MEET THE FOCKERS has shown extraordinary staying power, no doubt paving the way for MEET CRAZY UNCLE AL PACINO AND HIS FAMILY.

Annnnd the BO winners are...
  • 1. CLOSER
  • 2. MILLION DOLLAR BABY
  • 3. MEET THE FOCKERS
  • 4. RAY
  • 5. SIDEWAYS

RELEASED THIS WEEK

DiCaprio drinks his own urine as penance for THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, Kim Basinger raises money for Alec's alimony, the two actors with the largest CVs in Hollywood team up, and Mike Leigh sells out with your typical Imelda Staunton-starring drama about abortion.

Here's what's new...
  • THE AVIATOR
  • CELLULAR
  • HIDE AND SEEK
  • VERA DRAKE

REVIEWS

MILLION DOLLAR BABY

MYSTIC RIVER is, in my opinion, one of the best political films ever made. Throughout the film, I knew I was watching something very good, but the closing moments made me realise it was great. When the film's ultimate and haunting message hit, courtesy of a character who had been sitting on the sidelines up until her (thoroughly believable, no matter what anyone says) transformation, my spine froze. Never had the state of the world and its most dominant superpower been more aptly or subtly defined.

MILLION DOLLAR BABY isn't quite that film, but it's been subject to even more hype, landing as it has on the top of most critics' Best Of 2004 lists. For me, it was two different films. Whilst watching it, I was interested and entertained, but restless. The restlessness came towards the end, when the film takes the tangent you're not expecting and keeps going. It's strange, because you're fairly sure you're watching a film about... well, what the press kit synopsis says it's about. When it goes off in the other direction, it instantly produces the reaction of, "Oh, it must be over now". Restlessness generally comes when you think a film is about to finish and it doesn't. It's not a slight on the quality of what you're watching, but it's a Pavlovian trigger; I'm salivating, waiting for the end credits to roll.

Film A was okay, but drawn-out.

Film B is the one that sinks in, the one that, several hours later, makes you go, "Ohhh...". That moment you realise that the film really wasn't about the first thing, it was only using the first thing to illustrate a point made in the second film. That's what BABY has in common with RIVER: the point of the film takes between five and fifteen minutes right at the end, almost in mini-sequel form, following the story that only served to set up those final moments. In theory, all films are designed to set up their final moments, but in practise they are tangible stories that follow a path. Eastwood's last two films do take you on a path, but the final moments all take place at your destination as you look around and realise what the point was. He lingers on his conclusions, and it served him well in MYSTIC RIVER. My big problem with BABY is that I didn't feel like it worked while I was watching it, but it sure worked when I was sipping my coffee two hours later.

The performances are all as top-notch as you'd expect. Eastwood, not resting on his grizzled demeanour, actually puts in the hard yards and gives a performance you're just not expecting. Swank is as good as she was in BOYS DON'T CRY, following through on a promise of solid, flawless acting. Freeman adds a lot of class, and while I feel he was exactly the right person to give the voice over (in terms of character, how he witnesses the two protagonists), it does feel a little been-there. SHAWSHANK is my favourite all-time film, and though I don't agree that the entire narration was a re-tread of Red, there is at least one moment, particularly towards the end, where you feel the dialogue could easily have been lifted from Darabont's film. It's a minor quibble, especially given that Freeman was the right choice for the role, and his character was the right choice for the narration.

Ultimately, it's a film that's going to get nominated for everything under the sun, and probably win as well, but more importantly than that, it's a film of extraordinary pace that you should see despite, not because of, the standard awards hype.

HOTEL RWANDA

I can't shake this film. I can't do it. It's been days since I've seen it, and it's still with me. I still can't get it out of my head.

There's good storytelling, then there's this film. I can't think of more than a handful of films that know exactly when to go heavy, then relieve it by going light, then underlining the seriousness of the situation you're witnessing. HOTEL RWANDA tells the story of the horrific events that took place in the 1990s. Like all good films, it tells the story of many by focusing on the story of one. Don Cheadle plays Paul, the concierge at an up-market hotel in Rwanda, a man who in trying to protect his family finds himself having to protect everyone around him.

There are critics of SCHINDLER'S LIST who say that the film does a disservice to the millions killed in WWII by focusing on one of the very few success stories, a man trying to save as many Jews as he can. I've spent a long time pondering this criticism, and while I agree with its sentiment, I think that when you hear a tale of extraordinary behaviour in the midst of genocidal madness, it's a tale worth telling. HOTEL RWANDA succeeds at this to a greater extent than LIST.

Looking at the credits of the writers, I can't find much in their filmographies to suggest they had the ability to craft such a perfect script. Then again, there are few who have written perfect scripts in their past, so it is an exclusive club. The subject matter is never shied away from, nor is it shoved in your face for shock value. The balance of such elements is as perfect as the balance between the drama and the humour. Humour so essential for stories like this; the audience needs relief from the onslaught of the unimaginable. The humour in HOTEL never once demeans or diminishes the seriousness of the situation. It's what makes the characters in the film so believable, so honest. It's why you invest so much in them.

It's important to mention Don Cheadle, without whom this film simply would not work. He's in every scene, and he carries the film the way we've always known he could. His scene-stealing in every supporting role he's had is what makes this leading role what it is. He doesn't look like he has screen presence, but it's a rouse. He has it in spades. You can't take your eyes off him, and the fact that he makes you forget every other character he's ever played makes the film even more real.

The supporting characters are all perfect, with Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix each elevating the film to new levels. Nolte and Phoenix in particular highlight the apathy and subsequent self-loathing that the westerners felt - or *should* have felt - in reaction to the slaughter. All of the supporting actors are so solid that nobody is overshadowed by the greatest lead performance in years.

Perhaps the film's greatest success is its description of why the conflict is happening in the first place. It's one or two lines, it's throwaway, it's an offhand scene somewhere in the first act. The reasons for the slaughter (as much as any such action can have "reasons") are so ridiculous and apparently random that the filmmakers' disregard of it is the film's most powerful statement. All wars are about Us vs Them, and the distinction between the two parties would be laughable if it wasn't so tragic.

HOTEL RWANDA will probably get buried amidst MILLION DOLLAR BABY, SIDEWAYS and THE AVIATOR (all of which are excellent), and it will be a massive shame. This film is superior to all of the above, managing to convey an important message without once trading in its most vital asset: flawless storytelling.

FINDING NEVERLAND

FINDING NEVERLAND is not a bad film. I want to make this clear, because I'm going to spend a decent amount of this review telling you why you should avoid it.

Okay, I know that it's at the end of its run and if you haven't seen it by now, you're probably not going to, but Oscar season is coming up. If we have to put up with yet another film that announces its importance by being about either (a) an important author (b) a fatal disease or, in the case of FINDING NEVERLAND, (c) all of the above, I'm going to shove a prosthetic nose up someone's arse. (That's probably a faulty metaphor, given THE HOURS was a film I adored, and isn't that physical configuration meant to imply sycophantism?)

The film goes through the motions in terms of showing Barrie to be an eccentric not understood by his time. Everyone else is stiff and societal, whereas Barrie is a free spirit who tells everyone that the most important thing they have is their imagination. It's a horrendously-worn cliché, and I was expecting more from the director of MONSTER'S BALL. Have we not seen this in five hundred other films? Have we not reached the point where we can put that idea to rest once and for all? Worse than that, though, is the film's underlying message. "Just believe," Barrie tells the Davies children. Now, I'm a firm advocate of imagination. Without imagination, I'd have trouble convincing myself that this column is anything like real journalism. The problem here is that NEVERLAND is encouraging delusion, supporting the escape from reality. Their mother is sick, so best go to a fantasy land to escape your troubles.

Okay, fair enough, that's not the film's message throughout. It's more about making the world around you more interesting whilst The Man (Julie Christie) tries to hold you down and dull-ify everything. That's a fine message, I don't have a problem with that, but for a moment towards the end (and everyone knows the final scenes are the ones that summarise the point of everything you've just watched) I felt like the film was saying, "It's better to not deal with reality, so long as you have an interesting fantasy world to escape to!". Maybe I'm just being crotchety. The film also happens to contain what every biopic of a famous artist contains; someone staring at the resulting work and uttering the word, "Genius". Sigh.

The endless barrage of clichés aside, there are things to recommend. Johnny Depp is watchable as always, and infuses the film with more energy than it deserves. The much-lauded Freddie Highmore is frighteningly good, and the deceptive years behind his line delivery reminded me of the similarly-deceptive years behind Haley Joel Osmond's eyes whenever Shyamalan went in for the close-up. There are moments where you feel the adults around him have stopped acting and are, instead, staring at this kid thinking, "Holy shit, he's good". He is good, and he's going to be better. However, if you want to watch Johnny Depp and Freddie Highmore in a film worthy of their talents, avoid this film, and hope for the best when the CHOCOLATE FACTORY opens.

THE AVIATOR

I was rooting for Scorsese on this one, particularly after GANGS OF NEW YORK. GANGS had all the elements of a great film, but didn't amount to more than the sum of its parts. Given he'd been wanting to bring it to fruition for more than twenty years, it felt horrible when it didn't quite work. It's the one that should have worked. THE AVIATOR was brought to him by DiCaprio and Michael Mann, so it feels strange that this one should be such a success.

It's always difficult condensing a man's life into a two-to-three hour film, so the best you can do is study the essence of the character around the major and interesting moments of his life. LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS did it better than any other biopic I've seen. THE AVIATOR is easily up there.

The most successful element is Scorsese's direction. There is no one better to tell this story, no one else who understands that time period as well. As a result, he gives the film the look and feel of the period it's in at any given time. It's more than a gimmick. Film is the best record we have for measuring the passage of time in the 20th Century, and in using it as a barometer the film is made to feel like a genuine representation of the time.

John Logan has long been a writer I've used as part of a screenwriting scale. On one end of the scale is Aaron Sorkin, who I feel is the greatest living master of the written word. On the other end is, ironically, Sorkin's close friend Akiva Goldsman, whose filmography reads like a Razzie Awards chronology. In the middle is John Logan, whose scripts always have a lot of potential, but end up being as middle-of-the-road as you could ask for. For everything that's great in his scripts, there's something God-awful. For everything good, there's something bad. That said, this is Logan's best script. Not a perfect, or even extraordinary script, but it's excellent. It's very good. It's an appropriate template for the film Scorsese needed to weave. While I would have liked to see someone with a little more flair write the script, I have no complaints with anything Logan wrote.

DiCaprio carries the film well, and we finally see a glimmer of the quality he showed in WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?. It's easy to say, "Hey, that was amazing!" whenever somebody plays mental disability, but I think actors can be faulted with the same thing. DiCaprio seems lazier, less interested when he's playing the romantic lead. If there's nothing much to the character, he doesn't have much to play off and so adds nothing. He plays Hughes's madness (a broad and probably offensive term I'm going to use to cover all of his illnesses) without resorting to the tics and crazy antics that most actors do. Yes, he uses tics and crazy antics, but they're not a crutch. They're simply a symptom, and the underlying basis is played with as much fervour.

The biggest problem with DiCaprio is that he doesn't appear to age all that much. Or at all. The film takes place over a decent amount of time, and in that time his face doesn't change at all. Given the amount of detail poured into all other aspects, including his own performance, this is disappointing. Perhaps Hughes himself didn't appear to age all that much in the time period shown, but *something* would have been nice. A wrinkle. A bit of grey. A cat.

My favourite part of the film was easily any time Cate Blanchett was on screen. I liked the casting of Blanchett as Hepburn, but that was a physical thing. What I wasn't expecting was a complete transformation, almost as if she were channelling Hepburn herself. There was even a cute moment where, when visiting her family, she is heard to exclaim "Uncle Willy!", which gave me a sudden flashback to my favourite Hepburn film, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. Blanchett makes the film about ten times better whenever she is on screen that I would have been perfectly satisfied with a complete history revision so that she could be in there more. Additionally, Blanchett possesses something that very few actors possess; it's a minor thing that isn't discussed much, but when she is listening to someone else speak, she genuinely looks like she is listening. Take a look at most actors' reaction shots. They're either waiting for their line, or trying to be noticed. When Blanchett is quietly listening to DiCaprio's Hughes, you honestly feel like she is listening to him.

While not Scorsese's best, it's still a masterful and insightful film. There's plenty more to love about it, particularly Alan Alda's turn as Republican Senator Ralph Brewster. It's got a long running time, and with all of its eccentricities I can't see it drawing in the masses, but it will appeal to those after more than the stock-standard rise-and-fall story that so many biopics try to fit themselves to.

RAY

RAY suffers from the Curse of the Biopic. Well, I call it a curse, but its only real effect is a vague dislike from yours truly, so the filmmakers may not be quaking in their boots. The Curse I speak of is the problem of trying to condense a person's life into a two hour film. This is problematic, especially given that biopics are usually only made about extraordinary people who do more with their lives than boring people (you).

I recall the debate between my girlfriend and her lecturer. The lecturer didn't like film adaptations, as you were looking at it through the eyes of someone else. It was their interpretation, not the cold clear text completely unsullied. My girl argued, quite correctly I thought, that you're always influenced by someone else's adaptation. There's no such thing as an unsullied text. You're always affected by the font, the paper used, the size of the book or the computer screen. The publisher makes decisions that affect your interpretation. These are not elements you can eliminate.

Any film showing the life of Ray Charles is going to be biased, filtered through the pen of the writer, the lens of the cinematographer, the bullhorn of the director. That's before the actors have opened their mouths. I'm perfectly willing to accept that inevitability, and consequently I greatly enjoyed THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS. That was a film that, instead of attempting to condense as many major events as possible into two hours, focused on the ones that illustrated who he was. How did the filmmakers know who he was? They didn't. According to all reports, neither did Sellers. The film became the character of Sellers trying to discover his own identity concurrent to the filmmakers. Of course, you can only take that liberty once. RAY couldn't have been about that, and for the most part it's an interesting look at the times and events that shaped him, that led him to the artist he became.

The biggest problem is the people this story is filtered through. The liberties taken with the script and direction are reminiscent of A PERFECT STORM; a film that shouted "based on a true story" before proceeding to make everything up. It was horrendously insulting to the people who died and their families, not to mention horrendously boring for the audience. Was Ray Charles's life constantly haunted by the memory of his brother and his relationship with his mother? Perhaps. I don't know. I don't pretend to know. The problem I had was the number of times we were subjected to the water metaphor. It was ham-fisted, and led to the film's biggest misfire: the dream sequence with his mother and brother, in which Ray is forgiven.

If this is a true story that Charles related to a biographer or interviewer, more effort should have been made to confirm that these aren't just liberties that are being taken for the sake of closet skeletons and the mandatory redemption storyline. It's frustrating, and it's a crutch that was totally unnecessary for this superb film.

Yes, I think it's excellent. I found the direction to be, despite the above complaint, only a couple of notches above competent (it didn't get in the way and, at times, was rather interesting). Writing the script would have been a Herculean task and, for the majority of the running time, it handles itself well.

The clear highlight, though, is Jamie Foxx. Back when all I knew of him was some awful daytime "Fresh Prince"-lite sitcom, I'd never have thought he was capable of this. I'd have laughed if someone had told me he'd be the best thing about a film directed by Michael Mann and starring Tom Cruise. I'd never believe he'd be good as Ray Charles, let alone brilliant. Well, I'm a convert. Foxx inhabits Ray's skin beyond the easy caricature... but many people have written about it with more accuracy and articulacy, so I'll just leave it at that. He's brilliant.

Despite that one marring skunk streak throughout the film, it's a very good film. It gets points for not shying away from heroin addiction, rampant cheating, bad parenting, but I'm perplexed as to why I feel it pulled its punches. Maybe it's just me.

Hell, even if you love it completely, even if you hate it thoroughly, it's more than worth it to rediscover the songs of Ray Charles, all of which are beautifully rendered and introduced.

CLOSER

I'm not sure what to think of this film. I'm not sure if it has a point or not.

Well, it clearly does have a point. It has a message, for it is a work of Great Seriousness. If, going in, I didn't know it was based on a stage play, it would have taken me about three scenes to figure it out. For one, there's no real story. There's just a bunch of people sleeping with each other, and every time a new liaison is revealed, it's accompanied with an excessive amount of weight. After a while, it loses what little impact it had.

I'm getting ahead of myself. CLOSER is about four people who sleep with each other a lot. No, wait, I said that already. That, however, is the entirety of the plot. Nothing else happens. It's a film that has not contrived a plot, but merely a collection of scenes upon which is hung that all-powerful Meaning.

Play adaptations are a tricky thing. Almost invariably, they serve as a vehicle for the actors. While the stage is limiting, it also provides a set of boundaries which more often than not is a catalyst for inspiration. If you're asked to write anything, you may flounder. If you're asked to write anything but told it must all take place on the one stage in real-time, your mind buzzes with the possibilities. That said, CLOSER must have worked very well on stage. Indeed, I couldn't help wondering what it would have been like with Clive Owen in the Jude Law role (as he was in the play). On stage, it would have been a fascinating character study.

Why didn't I consider it successful on film? Well, I didn't say that. I was hoping that this review would help me make up my mind, but it's not helping. I'm still not sure if it was a good film or not. I was impressed that the location changes - invariably shoehorned in with excessive self-consciousness - felt, for the most part, natural. Film is a different beast from the theatre, and perhaps we expect more.

On the other hand, I loved ROPE. I loved GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. The original adaptation of TWELVE ANGRY MEN is pure brilliance. These are all films that, for all intents and purposes, take place in the one location. What's the difference? Why do I have love for these films while the ubiquitous fence makes a large dent in my rear end? There's tension in those films. There's the concealment of a murder in ROPE. There's one man trying to change the minds of eleven others to save a man's life in TWELVE ANGRY MEN. There's a lot of yelling in GLENGARRY. Those films had a clear end in sight, and even if we didn't know how they were going to end, we knew where they were going. Three quarters of the way through CLOSER, I had no idea where we were. You get the impression the write didn't, either.

There's a lot to be impressed by, though. It's more of an actor's film than any other film I can think of, and the performances don't disappoint. Clive Owen is the biggest surprise; my most recent impressions of him were in BOURNE IDENTITY (where he had maybe one line, max) and KING ARTHUR. His performance in KING ARTHUR was as boring as the film, his monosyllabic delivery making me feel like Abel Ferrara was boring a drill into my head. Here, he's very good. There's one scene where he overplays it a little, but it's a minor quibble and it only stands out because he's so spot-on the rest of the time. Roberts, Law and Padme are all solid. From a performance standpoint, it's clear what drew them to the material in the first place.

I think I did like it on some level. At very least, I enjoyed many of its elements. The elements, however, do not add up to a whole, and I spent most of the film waiting for something to happen. I wasn't sure why was meant to like these people, or why the film thought I should. I find it hard to care about a film where the only conflict is whether this person like that person or not. I get enough of that from PASSIONS, I don't need more.

Actually, the soap opera comparison isn't a bad one. It's a big-screen soap opera, infused with meaning and given a high-profile cast. It's also the first film where the marketing department seems to have a more succinct view of what's going on than the filmmakers: the tagline, "If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking," is more powerful than anything we're given in the film. From the promising opening, to the predictable yet interesting twist, to the ridiculous final shot that could have been directed by Benny Hill, we're given a collection of well-written, well-acted, and well-directed scenes in a film that never amount to more than the sum of its parts.

PS: It's been two weeks since I wrote this review, and I feel compelled to mention that the film has grown on me a lot in that time. I'm looking forward to seeing it again in the future to see if it plays better the second time around.

SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW

There's this thing I've been doing for a while now, which is half-writing reviews in my head before I see the film. Before that quote is taken out of context, let me explain. In fact, let me give you a good example: SKY CAPTAIN.

I had this intro playing around in my head whereby I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of local publicity departments using the US box office as a guide to how well (or not) a film should be promoted. The advantages included no cinema release for films like CHASING LIBERTY. The disadvantages included having to wait so bloody long for SKY CAPTAIN. That was what I planning to talk about, as I assumed this would be a film I loved.

It ain't.

SKY CAPTAIN is visually stunning. Its beautiful soft-lens work forces you to recall the films from the era in which it is set. As wonderful as it looks, however, I wanted to yell "Focus!" at the screen after about twenty minutes. Overdone? Perhaps. There's no denying Kerry Conran's love of the time that has inspired him. He's so gloriously in love with it, it's hard not to be infected with that same nostalgia, regardless of whether you lived-in or watched the films from way back when. From the awesome shots of the three hands pointing up in succession to the robots in the sky, to the characters of a sassy reporter and a daring fighter pilot, to scientists with white goatees and German accents, Conran has got the classic constructs of the time down pat.

My problem with the film is that it takes this concept and does very little with it. The plot is muddled and nonsensical at times. The dialogue is woeful. The actors appear to have been given no direction, and almost all look awkward and uncomfortable. Angelina Jolie and Jude Law are enthusiastic and appear prepared to inhabit their characters, but there's very little character there. Gwyneth Paltrow is the most miscast, looking the part but apparently not getting the film at all. The "banter" between her and Law is frustratingly forced, and the two have zero chemistry. The actor who comes off best is Giovanni Ribisi, who strikes the perfect balance between sidekick, comic relief, techie, and second-in-command.

The awkwardness of the dialogue and acting, as well as the infuriating obsession the director has in reminding us just how many shots Polly has left, makes this feel like the highest-budget student film ever made. I'd wanted to write a review where I could praise the producers and studio for taking a risk on an unproved director; now it feels like a risk they probably should have avoided.

It strives to be a glorious homage, and on surface level it succeeds. It succeeds magnificently. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find a total lack of ideas. Look at RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Look at KILL BILL. These are homages through-and-through, but they did something different. They took it in a new direction. Tarantino is so popular and successful because right on top you have the cool factor of Shaw Brothers zooms and iconic yakuza characters; underneath, you find Tarantino's own style, his fingerprints that so readily define everything he makes; underneath that, you find a reason to it all, a point to be made, and it's always a point worth making.

Coasting on pretty images is one thing, but with such a stunningly beautiful love letter to the classic era of serials and adventurers, it deserved to have much more to it.

NEXT WEEK

- Dakota Fanning to receive lifetime achievement award at this year's Oscars ceremony

- Charlie Kaufman pens a BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH sequel centring around the brain-invasion of the star of a 1980s sitcom, in YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE DANSON

- Leni Riefenstahl's lawyers sue Ice Cube, Dr Dre and all the members of NWA after finding evidence of the unfinished 1939 documentary FUCK DA POLISH

Peace out,

Latauro

AICNDownunder@hotmail.com

Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 10, 2005, 10:46 a.m. CST

    The 'Next Week' segment just keeps getting better...

    by Monkey Butler

    And I totally agree about Finding Neverland, although I'd go further and say that it was hampered by the factthat it was so obviously being pulled in three directions by the execs - kids flick, biopic/adult drama, and Oscar-bait - which meant that it was totally uneven in tone, and ended up missing all three targets. I'm still holding out hope for Sky Captain though - I'm a sucker for art deco.

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 11:32 a.m. CST

    Dead-on balls accurate (It's an industry term) about Aviator and

    by Barry Egan

    An AICN article that praises "Mystic River??????" Wow!

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 12:08 p.m. CST

    yes

    by TheGinger Twit

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 12:23 p.m. CST

    Hotel Rwanda

    by moviemaniac-7

    Although I haven't heard too much from Hotel Rwanda, especially compared with the other films mentioned above, I'd love to see this one the most. Cheadle is a Class A actor and the story seems to me as moving as the mentioned Schindler's List, Welcome to Sarajevo and The Killing Fields. Can't wait to see it. And I really hope the ratings issue will not become an endless story again. Not for the writing about it, but for the f***ing conservative view that sex is bad. Look at all the action films in which people are killed: no problem for the ratings commission - release it! But if two people have sex (with an awesome soundtrack) it's suddenly a big no-no.

  • Feb. 10, 2005, 12:27 p.m. CST

    Nice reviews. Thx.

    by CurryIce

    and i can't wait to see Hotel Rwanda.

  • Feb. 17, 2005, 5:07 a.m. CST

    Hoo-Wee.

    by joe brady

    It's been a while since I've posted here. Just thought I'd mention that Liam Neeson was dropped from "The Proposition", AKA, John Hillcoat's latest Nick Cave-related film project, something that noone on these boards cares about, but which I am feverishly anticipating. Also, I should add that I am now only visiting this site for Latauro. So... fuck all you haters/ignorers.

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