Father Geek here with a 2 week dose of Latauro and his news from the lands downunder...
Your way's four inches, mine is an inch and a half. Do you want to pay for
the extra gas?
I feel like I've come late to the party, but if it anyone hasn't heard, Akira Kurasawa's 1950s Samurai film THE SEVEN SAMURAI is fucking brilliant. SEVEN SAMURAI was always near the top of my list. You know, that list most of us has of films everyone in the world has seen, the cinematic classics that we just haven't seen. SAMURAI was one of those for me until last Monday when I went along to the Greatest Theatre In The World (Melbourne's The Astor) to see it on the big screen before I pick up the Criterion release.
My God. I mean, seriously.
There's no point in me going on about it, as I'm sure fifty years worth of praise combined with the fact that most of you have probably seen it will make anything I say redundant. However, I will say that seeing it with fresh eyes in 2005, fifty-one years after its release, it still holds up. It's got a pretty lengthy running time, but it's never too long. While it does seem to borrow a few plot elements from THE MAGNEFICENT SEVEN and steal some scenes outright from A BUG'S LIFE, Kurasawa's film is funny, exciting, dramatic... it's one of those rare films that actually exceeds its own hype, and guys, that's saying something.
If SEVEN SAMURAI is on your list of films you should have seen but haven't, either pick it up today (if you can't get the Criterion edition shipped in, the recent region four release from Madman's Eastern Eye collection is pretty damn good) or wait for the Astor or any other local, cool cinema to play it. I guarantee, it'll be better than any new release.
* For those who haven't heard the news, it'll be three or four years before we see the feature film THERE AND BACK AGAIN. No, we're not talking about the much-anticipated adaptation of Sean Astin's autobiography tell all, starring Simon Wood as Astin (and that joke will only work if you went to school with me). We're talking HOBBIT talk. Peter Jackson, who has thus far managed to avoid letting studio crap get in the way of making kickarse films, is now waiting for the studio crap to subside as the studios work out exactly who owns the rights anyway. While a lot of people seem to think it's a bad thing, I'm rejoicing. Think about it: the last thing Jackson wants to do is repeat himself. Let him go back to exploring other films, genres, universes, and by the time the rights are cleared up, he may have the itch to return to Middle-Earth and helm Bilbo's adventure himself. Of course, that's the situation in Lat's World of Hopeful Optimism, which includes Ian Holm returning as Bilbo, and foot rubs from Jessica Biel.
* The world premiere of THE INTERPRETER, Sydney Pollack's UN thriller, will take place in the director's namesake city. Our Nic will attend the premier on April 4 at the Sydney Opera House, the world-famous landmark that looks like someone brushed Max Headroom's hair against the grain.
* When he's not explaining how films are made to right-wing brick wall Andrew Bolt, Philip Noyce occasionally likes to make films. Next up he'll be making the political thriller HOT STUFF for Working Title films, from a script by Shawn Slovo. Slovo is the daughter of Ruth First, the anti-apartheid campaigner, and Joe Slovo, a member of the African National Congress. The film will shoot this May in South Africa.
* This is interesting: the NSW Government, in order to battle the insane crapness of the Australian film industry, has issued invitations to "three of the world's leading filmmakers" to join the Aurora Program, set up to raise quality of locally-made films and increase their commercial appeal. The filmmakers? Gus Van Sant, John Sayles and Geoff Stier. These three have agreed to be brought on as script advisors. Now, with the odd exception, these guys make terrific films. Van Sant's ELEPHANT is a work of art, and everyone generally acknowledges Sayles's greatness. What I find interesting is that the combined box office takings of these fellas' films is roughly the same as what I owe on my credit card. They've never been about commercial appeal, and if one of the main problems is that nobody sees Aussie films (whether they're good or not), we might want to be talking to people with a slightly higher profit track record. On the other hand, Zemeckis and Raimi and the other big success stories are probably too busy counting their winnings, so it's a bit of a catch 22. We'll let you know how they go.
* If you've been wandering the streets of Old Melbourne Town lately, you may have run into the GHOST RIDER production moving from location to location. (I myself caught glimpse of the production last Saturday night in the wee hours, but couldn't stop to look as I was high on a concoction of ecstasy, speed, adrenochrome, red cordial, hallucinogenic cabbages, non-alcoholic vodka, oregano and, most importantly, life.) Luckily for us, the "Prince of Wales" snapped some pics with his phone, and, using his camera, emailed us the following: "Was walking down Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne, Australia, today at lunch and caught a bunch of construction workers pulling down a set for the new Nicholas Cage movie "Ghost Rider". Apart from the filming in the large Carlton cemetery two weeks ago, it's been pretty quiet. Basically the front of the set was these three shop fronts, with overturned burnt-out cars in each window. Texas number plates on each. I heard a guy on a mobile (you yanks call them "cell's") saying that they blew the place up on Saturday night and then on Sunday filmed the character returning to the burnt ruins. Out the back was a large set of a Texaco petrol station with a phone booth out the front. The phone booth looked strategically placed. There's been several sightings of Mr Cage around the city, sighted dining in our finest restaurants, and cycling along the Yarra river. We promise to return him in good condition. Tooks these pictures off my phone, sorry about the quality but it was the best I could do on such short notice." Due to technical problems involving the pictures (I stuffed them into a bottle, scrawled "Father Geek, Texasland" on the side and threw it into the ocean... but the bottle wasn't compatible with FG's bottle opener), we can't bring them to you. I can tell you they look damned interesting, and I'm known to hardly ever lie about these thing, mostly.
* Nick Earls is an Australian author. At least, that's what I've garnered from reports that his novel "48 Shades of Brown" may be made into a film called 48 SHADES OF BROWN, which will shoot in Brisbane from this August. Fans of the book, tell us what it's about below.
* If you read AICN-D regularly (and let's face it, you load up AICN and hit F5 all week until it appears, don't you?), you'll remember many news items about a local animated short, HERMAN, THE LEGAL LABRADOR. Well, get your diaries, because you're going to be able to see it. This coming Saturday (March 26), the film will be playing on SBS's regular short film programme, "Eat Carpet" at 11:20pm. If you're more eagre than that and happen to be Melbourne-based, you can rock on down to Bar Open, 317 Brunswick St, Fitzroy to watch it simulcast alongside the filmmakers and, barring natural disasters or sudden elopements, myself.
AWARDS AND FESTIVALS
15TH ANNUAL MELBOURNE QUEER FILM FESTIVAL
The film festival closed this week past, with Craig Boreham winning the City of Melbourne Emerging Filmmaker for Best Australian Queer Short Film, for his film TRANSIENT.
What do these entries tell us? Number one tells us that people will watch anything, number two tell us that people seem to listen to David and Margaret more than they listen to me, number three takes a red pen and underlines the point made by number one, number four tells us that Delta Goodrem and a lot of pink beats proven actors any day, and number five shows us nothing we didn't already know.
2. BE COOL
3. ARE WE THERE YET?
4. HATING ALISON ASHLEY
RELEASED THESE PAST WEEKS
Mario Van Peebles removed the man's foot from his papa's asssss, Gael Garcia Bernal stars in a film that isn't actually about Geelong Grammar, Istvan Szabo appeals to the coveted 18-35 market by casting Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons in a W. Somerset Maugham adaptation, J.K. Rowling finds she has a hell of a lot to answer for, Rhys Ifans plays a wacky guy, Geoff Bennett appeals to the over 65 market by casting pop princess Delta Goodrem in a high school CLUELESS-like teen novel adaptation, Charles dances with Dames, the French steal the upcoming "Kath and Kim" feature film subtitle, Joshua Marston changes the name of his lead character from "Grace" to "Maria" and finds he can keep the original title, wild horses file a grievance with their union before even attempting to drag me to this one, Vin Diesel makes good on the promise of his last several films, Wes Anderson stretches himself by putting Bill Murray in a quirky comedy, 20th Century Fox collectively yawns and accidentally makes ROBOTS, and Naomi Watts raises a child that would have Gregory Peck reaching for the coat hanger.
FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
HATING ALISON ASHLEY
LADIES IN LAVENDER
LOOK AT ME
MARIA FULL OF GRACE
MISS CONGENIALITY 2: ARMED AND FABULOUS
THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU
THE RING 2
Okay, so ROBOTS is either a really bad Pixar film or a really bad Dreamworks film. This is the first indication that it's from the Fox Animation Studios, the company that realised no one was occupying the dull middle-ground between entertaining and merchandising.
My problem is that ROBOTS isn't actually a bad film. It's not a good film either. I was glued to the screen during THE INCREDIBLES because it was so awesome. I was glued to the screen during SHARK TALE because I couldn't believe any film could be as bad as the one I was watching. At several points during ROBOTS, I actually forgot I was watching a movie. I'd drift off, thinking about things I had to do later that day, or how surprisingly good the sandwiches provided by Fox out in the foyer had been. This drifting happened during big action scenes, which Hollywood believes are the most engaging sequences in any film, but are, more often than not, the dullest.
Some of the jokes work and some don't. The opening sequence isn't brilliant, but it's pretty funny. A lot of the innuendo and double-meaning between the two robots as they construct their child (who becomes our main character) is fairly funny, and it balances out the stuff that isn't. When I say this film is middle-of-the-road, it's not because half the jokes are brilliantly hilarious and the other half are the worst atrocities ever; it's because there's a mid-ground of relative amusement that the film jumps either side of. A few things got a laugh out of me, but mostly I was just vaguely smiling.
That big opening sequence is probably the best thing about the film. It does a brilliant job showing how a robot can "grow up", and the filmmakers really go to town here. It's a very promising opening, and it's a while before the blandness sets in. There's a fairly amazing sequence soon after where, encased in a metal sphere, Rodney (our guy) travels through the robot city. Jacob Zhivov from Patrick McGinlay's Internet Gastroscopy (http://mcginlay.nakedfella.com) said after the screening, "It's like the filmmakers played Mouse Trap one too many times." That's it exactly. It's better than any sequence Dreamworks has put out, and promises quite a lot.
Then, of course, we get the staples of these films: a love story that makes absolutely no sense and has no impact on the plot (seriously, people laugh when they here no Bollywood film can get made without having a minimum of six songs sung by the main characters, but Hollywood has just as many unnecessary prerequisites); a wacky sidekick voiced by a comedian (I like Robin Williams as much as anyone, but we've heard his animation routine in ALADDIN, and this just feels second-tier in comparison); wacky sidekicks who really aren't that interesting; and, finally, the obvious moralising that, while not laid on too thick, still comes off as a little trite.
Then we get to the "hey, that looks awfully familiar" moments. I know it's hard to do funny robot jokes these days, now that "Futurama" pretty much covered them all, but there were still a few moments that made me scratch my chin. The robot searching for his voice box was a little reminiscent of the episode "Obsoletely Fabulous", but it was vague enough to let slide. Then we got to the ending, and I realised they weren't ripping off "Futurama"; they were ripping off TOY STORY 2. If you bother with this film, you'll see what I mean in the final sequence. (Oh, and if you're doing an animated robot film so soon after "Futurama" and want to avoid all comparisons, don't call the crazy best buddy character "Fender". It doesn't do you any favours by calling attention to a much funnier, and far more original, character.)
I know this review is bordering on being a Goldilocks retelling, but I have to say the animation itself is not too good, not too bad, but very "meh". There's none of the lush beauty from anything Pixar has done (including LUXO JNR), but it's not nearly as ugly as SHARK TALE. The big problem with the film is that, essentially, everything is made of the same stuff. Yes, there are different types of metal, but the background, the props, the furniture, the main characters are all made of it! The animators didn't do nearly enough work to separate them, and most of the time I was trying to work out if I was looking at a background plate or our hero. Still, the times where it was obvious, everything looked fine. Not good, but fine.
Aside from the fart sequence (you read that correctly) and the embarrassingly-outdated everybody-dances-to-Brittney Spears bit, there's nothing really all that bad about ROBOTS. There's just nothing to really recommend. I wish I hadn't waited half a week to write this review, as the film is so unmemorable I've been struggling with the details. You won't be rushing back to see it again, but you won't be yelling at the manager for your money back. Another fifty per cent effort from the Beige Studios.
Whoever abused Chan-Wook Park as a child, or dropped him on his head, or show him porn and stuff instead of reading him fairy tales, whoever made him into the sick, demented pervert he is today, we thank you for it. It's a damn good thing he went into a life of filmmaking instead of a life of crime, too.
OLD BOY, while not as violent as SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE (and, let's face it, genocide is barely as violent as SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE), still contained a couple of moments that had me studying the green "Exit" sign in the corner with great intent.
There's no point me recounting the plot here, not that it's something I do, anyway. If you've got a weak constitution, you probably shouldn't be bothering with it. What I do find interesting is the way Park makes it look like he's simply making plot-driven exploitation, when he actually does have something interesting to say. This is the supposed second part in his vengeance trilogy (part three should be out in the next year or so, the curiously-titled SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE). The first film was a devastating look at the pointlessness and self-abuse of revenge; love or hate it, by its end you couldn't shake its effect. It featured men driven to such extremes in their desire to destroy what hurt them that they end up increasing their own misery. The film was a statement much in the same way that MYSTIC RIVER was a statement, and the director made that statement as powerfully as possible.
I was curious as to whether OLD BOY would contain such a message. It seemed like a far more enjoyable revenge film, with a high concept plot and twists more reminiscent of Hitchcock or even Chris Nolan. Truthfully, it's harder to find, but it is in there. It almost one-ups its predecessor: while the first film shows its characters to lose everything because of their need for revenge, OLD BOY presents us with characters who have nothing left. Their lives are nothing but revenge, and without that they have nothing. It's like Park is playing devil's advocate to his previous argument. What if you've already lost everything and revenge is the only thing that keeps you going? If it's the only thing keeping you alive, shouldn't it be celebrated and nurtured?
Clearly, that's just my take on it, and I'm sure when I see it again I'll come up with an entirely different take (it's already evolved greatly in the twenty-fours since I've seen it). Regardless, I can think of few other films off the top of my head that have gone to such lengths to show just how uncompromising true vengeance can be. It'll be fascinating to see where he goes next.
First of all, props to the Kino cinema in Melbourne. Until a few nights ago, I'd never actually been there, and it's a lovely place. I went along to a preview screening of the new Australian film THREE DOLLARS (it stars David Wenham, Frances O'Connor and Sarah Wynter, is directed by Robert Connolly, and actually looks like it could be this year's exception to the rule), only to find it had been cancelled. The Kino, who were not the ones who had organised or cancelled the screening, took pity on me and my compadres and gave us free tickets to the film of our choice. They were under no obligation to do so, and should be given the credit they deserve.
So, what did we unanimously decide to see? BAADASSSSS!, the Mario Van Peebles film detailing the making of SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG by Melvin Van Peebles. But you probably guessed that from the telegraphing sub-heading just above.
I've never really paid much attention to Mario Van Peebles. Looking over his filmography, I can see a whole lotta acting roles in things I've never seen. I can also see a whole lotta Mario-directed-films I never knew about. I vaguely assumed this was his first film simply because I was ignorant of his work, but it lends credence to my thoughts during the movie: he's got an awful lot of confidence, and an awful lot of talent to back it up.
This is one of the most assured films I've seen in recent times. There are times in films - even those made by the masters (and mistresses) we all adore - where you get the sense the director really didn't know where to go, so hid behind the script until a better scene came along. There's none of that here. Nothing lags, and every scene is told either completely straight or with fairly era-defining psychodelic effects, but none of it's gratuitous or over the top. All of it works.
It gets a big foot up (and out, ass-wise) from the fact that the subject matter was so important. I'd heard of SWEET SWEETBACK, but I had no idea of how important it was and how much the blaxploitation genre - fun though it was - had missed the point. Or, at very least, did not come close to the political relevance of SWEETBACK. The subject matter of Mario's film is so much deeper than, say, that of Emilo Estevez's underrated RATED X, and it's the balance between that subject matter and the directing skill that makes this such a brilliant biopic.
The biopic is such a hard thing to get right (though, apparently, an all-too-easy thing to win an Oscar for), and while I feel that THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS is one of the most successful ever made, its style is not something that can be easily transposed. BAADASSSSS! avoids trying to compress Melvin's entire life into two hours, and instead focuses on the making of the film. Because the film wisely chooses the making of SWEET SWEETBACK as its focus, it's able to surreptitiously slide in a nuanced and fascinating study of a very interesting man.
The study itself is not idealised and it doesn't shy away from showing Melvin's faults. The film works because it doesn't try to present us with a Great Man, but rather a flawed man who did a Great Thing.
In a perfect world, there'd be a Criterion edition of SWEET SWEETBACK, with an extra disc devoted to BAADASSSSS!. BAADASSSSS! stands on its own feet, and is something I'm looking forward to seeing again. And with any luck, we'll get a multi-angle option on the scene with Adam West. I saw this film by accident, and I couldn't be happier. See it on purpose.
IN GOOD COMPANY
This is one of those rare films that I heard nothing about until I saw the poster in the local cinema. The trailer looked interesting too, with all actors apparently on polite mode. It may sound odd that characters being polite to one another was an attraction, but there are few things more frustrating than characters who put on the artifices and contrivances of anger in order to give individual scenes some sort of conflict (see: "Party of Five"). The world is filled with far more polite people than Hollywood lets on, and it shows promise that a filmmaker can use that and still have an interesting story to tell.
This film is, it should be pointed out, Dennis Quaid's. Completely. The poster may make it out to be a Topher Grace/Scarlet Johansson love story with Quaid relegated to sage old man, but it couldn't be further from that. The film makes a big deal of counterpointing the lives of Quaid's character and Grace's character, but Topher Grace isn't strong enough to hold his own. While I think "That 70s Show" doesn't even qualify as a sitcom (sitcoms at least have jokes in them, even if they're bad), I've always liked Grace's other work. His cameo work in the OCEAN'S films were terrific, but he was really on fire in TRAFFIC. Maybe it's the brilliance of Sodergod that gets it out of him, but he still did really well, especially as he was playing opposite Michael Douglas at the height of his powers. Here, he's playing against fellow TRAFFIC alumni Quaid at the height of *his* powers, and he just doesn't cut it. He does a very good job, but it falls short of great. Like the film itself (more on that later).
Quaid steals every scene he's in, playing this character to within an inch of his life without ever overstating or understating. Just look at the post-tennis match scene between him and Johansson. He goes through about five completely different emotions in the space of as many seconds, and hits every beat with subtle perfection. This isn't acting as an interpretive art; this is acting as creative art, true storytelling through body and face. This may be out of left field, but I was actually getting Chaplin flashbacks. Quaid's always been great, but I can't think of a single role he's done that contains the power he exhibits here.
The film itself is almost as good. It's a notch or so short of great, settling into that acceptable "very good" category. What holds it back? The subtext is fascinating, and Paul Weitz clearly knows the story he wants to tell. The problem is that there's almost always one line too many; just a small thing that announces it to people who didn't get it the first time. It's not a major problem. It's not as overt as, say, "Desperate Housewives" (which contains a much-touted narration from a dead character, despite the fact she never says anything of consequence), but it could still survive without them. Survive? It would be much better without those lines. It's a minor quibble, but it's not an unimportant one.
It's an interesting follow-up to Weitz's last film, ABOUT A BOY. Whilst that featured an ageing character who refused to grow up, COMPANY features a young character who's tried to grow up too quickly. It's a theme that Weitz seems interested in pursuing, and I hope he continues it. I'd like to see him tackle it from a different angle, perhaps completing some sort of thematic trilogy, because he's getting better with each film and the next one could truly be something special.
COMPANY is a very good film, and manages to be an interesting character study that doesn't require histrionics and screaming characters populating every scene. Definitely worth seeing on a fourth date.
- Todd Haynes to direct a melodramatic follow-up to THE STEPFORD WIVES, in IMITATION OF WIFE
- The Coen Brothers sign Mel Gibson on as Noah in quirky indie biblical epic FLOOD SIMPLE
- Katherine Bigelow to direct new Daffy-centric Loony Tunes vampire movie NEAR DUCK