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AICN-DOWNUNDER: Pineapple Express, Hellboy II, The Visitor, Red Belt and much more!

Suck my ectoplasmic Schwanzstücke!

AICN-DOWNUNDER

Incredibly late, I am, with this column. You can blame (thank?) MIFF for that. But back on the horse I am, and, for some reason, like Yoda I'm writing.

That wasn't actually on purpose, but it does bring up an interesting point. Until I get paid cashmoney to review films, I'm going to pick and choose what I see. This means, as I've said before, avoiding THE LOVE GURU, SEX IN THE CITY: THE MOTION PICTURE EXPERIENCE, and anything that stars people who have met Paris Hilton.

Surprisingly, I have now added STAR WARS: CLONE WARS to that list. Not to make any sort of statement or defy The Beard or anything, I just didn't care. I found the trailer to be incredibly boring... why would I sit through two hours of that? For a while now, I've been telling friends, associates, people on the street, drive-thru windows, etc, that I'm totally over STAR WARS and don't care about it any longer. Even I wasn't 100% sure that was true, but with my CLONE WARS-directed apathy, I guess I really am passed caring. And I only mention it here 'cos everyone else on AICN was, and I felt left out.

Now, on with the column...

NEWS

As I mentioned in my Melbourne International Film Festival coverage, newly-crowned MIFF ambassador Eric Bana chose MAD MAX 2 as a special screening. At the post-film Q&A, he spoke about a documentary he's just finished directing called LOVE THE BEAST. It's about his love affair with his 1974 Falcon Coupe (which he calls The Beast). He spoke about how the film focussed on how a love of cars bound the friendship of him and his two best friends. A news story on Urban Cinefile says that Jeremy Clarkson will appear in the film, which just upped my interest in it even further. According to Bana, the doco will be released by Madman Entertainment into cinemas early next year.

Ah, George Miller. He was a slightly left-field, but still an incredibly desirable, choice as the director of the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie. The movie's downfall could be put down to many things, but clearly one of the problems was the fact that Warner Brothers just doesn't know how to bring all of its disparate properties together. The new GREEN LANTERN script is, according to IESB, terrific, and there's a rumour that Miller, now no longer attached to JL, will take on the Hal Jordan-centred adaptation. I won't go into spoilers here, but if you want them, take a look at their coverage. As much as I dug HAPPY FEET, I'm looking forward to seeing Dr Miller helm a project that contains severe arse-kickery.

And no sooner do I write that, than HAPPY FEET 2 goes into production. With less fanfare that accompanies the alteration of a movie's font on a poster, HAPPY FEET 2 moved out of the realms of vague rumour-mongering, and into my dreams. Though it does list unlikely projects such as BABE 3, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD and JUSTICE LEAGUE as being in "pre-production", the website of Dr. D Studios is insistent that it is hard at work on the dancing penguin sequel. HAPPY FEET was about ten times better than any of us really expected it to be, so HF2 could be 2011's Official Pixar Rival. (I'd like to claim credit for discovering this story, but all the heavy lifting was done by ScreenHub.)

I completely forgot that Scott Hicks's next film was about to be shot in Australia. Coming hot on the heels of his terrific Philip Glass doco (reviewed by yours truly here), THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN will soon shoot in South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula, by the far the most exciting thing to ever happen to South Australia since God flooded it back in the Old Testament. Clive Owen plays a drunk, selfish writer who is forced to look after two young boys after a tragic accident places them in his care. The film will also star Australian Melissa George, who co-starred with Owen in DERAILED, and begins shooting in September.

There are numerous ways to fix the Australian industry, so you'd think from the cacophony of voices that are never shy in expressing their opinions until everybody is tired of hearing them (note: I am as guilty as anybody on this front). One of the most common complaints is that we don't make nearly enough genre flicks. Rob Baard clearly heard "We don't make enough 1980s straight-to-video genre flicks", as he will make and star in THE NINJA, which has the dubious honour of being the most expensive film ever made in Geelong. Baard has independently raised six million dollars for the film (which, in Hollywood terms, is sixty million). In an interview with the Geelong Advertiser, Baard says: "We've come up with an original story that addresses relevant issues, such as petrol prices, media and the general direction the world is heading." And ninjas who battle corrupt CEOs, apparently. It would be unprofessional of me to write the film off completely, however, the film will also star Tania Zaetta.

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

If you're not sick of hearing me talk about it yet, allow me one last hurrah and then I'll keep quiet. The festival was, for those of us who sacrificed financial and health concerns, a raging success. My exhaustive (and exhausting) coverage of the extraordinary event can be read chronologically, but not alphabetically, here:
Click here to read my review of opening night film NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #1: THE SAGA BEGINS...
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #2: IT AIN'T ALL WINE AND ROSES
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #3: EVERYONE'S A CRITIC? REALLY?
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #4: THE LESSER UNION
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #5: THE ROAD WARRIOR RETURNS
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #6: THE CINEMATIC OLYMPICS
Click here to read LATAURO @ MIFF #7: ...THE SAGA CONCLUDES

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

Guy Pearce's THE HURT LOCKER, telling the stories of soldiers fighting in the Iraq War, is one of the favourites for Venice's Golden Lion award. The film also stars Ralph Fiennes and is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, but I emphasise Guy Pearce so as to subtly explain its inclusion in this column. And now you know all of my secrets.

AUSTRALIAN FILM INSTITUTE AWARDS

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD is, as my review correctly stated, the best Australian film of the year thus far. If something overtakes it, this will be the best year for Australian movies ever. Not only has it been selected to play at Austin's Fantastic Fest and Toronto, but it has just been nominated for Best Documentary for this year's AFI Awards. The NQH website just went live, too. Check it out here: http://www.notquitehollywood.com.au

INSIDE FILM AWARDS

BLACK WATER, the terrific Australian croc film (which I reviewed here), has not surprisingly been enjoyed overseas whilst being ignored in its homeland. You can amend such things by voting for it in this year's Inside Film Awards! Just click here and then do whatever the interweb text tells you to do. (To be honest, there are about three or four films that I think are completely worthy of the IF win, but the BLACK WATER people asked me for my endorsement first, so they get it. And yes, BW is one of the three or four films I'd be happy seeing win.)

BOX OFFICE

This really surprised me. My personal thoughts on PINEAPPLE EXPRESS can be found below, but I really thought this would come in at least second. We're a week or so away from TROPIC THUNDER, which will likely usurp the Bat-Man the way it did in the US.

1. THE DARK KNIGHT
2. MAMMA MIA!
3. WANTED
4. PINEAPPLE EXPRESS
5. THE BANK JOB

REVIEWS

I'd planned to get this AICN-D done and dusted weeks ago, but MIFF coverage pretty much ate into all my spare writing time. I wrote all of these reviews as I saw the films, and even though I'm not even sure if, say, THE VISITOR is still playing on local screens, I've kept the review up in case you do chance upon it somewhere.

THE VISITOR

To my shame, I've not yet seen Thomas McCarthy's THE STATION AGENT, which everyone raves to me about. Rest assured, I will soon be seeking it out after seeing McCarthy's latest film THE VISITOR, a beautifully understated film about illegal immigrants in New York.

At a time where I've been forced to miss the majority of media screenings, there was one drawcard that got me along to this film: Richard Jenkins. The little-known but always solid supporting actor had finally been cast in a lead role, and being such a fan of the man's work, I could hardly allow myself to miss his big leading role. Turned out that this was a good move to make, as THE VISITOR is one of the best dramas of recent times, oddly touching, consistently real (if I may use that term without further qualification), and surprisingly funny.

It took me half the film to figure out that Jenkins had been made to look a lot like Rudy Giuliani; fitting in a film about New York and zero tolerance policies. Jenkins's Professor Walter Vale becomes involved in the lives of two illegal immigrants when he returns to New York after an extended absence. To give more of the plot away would probably detract from your enjoyment of it (with most big films spoiled months in advance, how often do you get to enjoy the journey of discovery?), but it gives a human face to an issue that too often does not have one.

All the performances in the film are solid, particularly Jenkins as the disaffected academic, and Hiam Abbass, who I recently mentioned in my review of LEMON TREE as being the highlight of that film. Clearly, this is something she makes a habit of.

A lovely, small character piece that is compelling me to seek out THE STATION AGENT, and eagerly await McCarthy's next film.

WALL-E

Curiously, in an age of big studio multi-continental simultaneous release dates, Australia and New Zealand (and Greece, apparently) are getting this film nearly two months after its Stateside release. I'm not sure why this was the strategy; usually this is done for films that either underperform, or aren't particularly good. WALL-E is is neither of those, so what gives? Yes, I'm just venting at having to wait so long for such a great film...

Before the film, we were treated to the Pixar short PRESTO. I love that Pixar has brought back the tradition of the pre-film short, and I love that their shorts are so ridiculously good. For my money, PRESTO, the story of a magician's rabbit trying to get at a carrot, is their best to date, and I don't say that lightly. Much as I love all of their shorts, PRESTO is their funniest and most inventive. In other words, the perfect mood setter for one of Pixar's best features.

Andrew Stanton is my favourite guy at Pixar. Much as I'm a fan of all the Lasseters and Birds, Stanton is the guy whose work appeals to me the most. His screenplays are never short of brilliant, and FINDING NEMO is the Pixar film I find myself revisiting more often than any of them. After that amazing teaser, the one that ends with WALL-E looking up at the stars and Thomas Newman's music kicking in over the logos, I refrained from any detail, major or minor, about the film. Surprise is key.

And now I get stuck in my review. I mean, how often can you write the same thing over and over again? Pixar hasn't really lost their deft touch, and that makes them tough to critique. Character work, CGI, story, ideas, dialogue... how often can you praise different films in the exact same way? It's frustrating as a critic, particularly as it highlights my weaknesses as a reviewer. (Also, at time of writing I've reviewed six MIFF films in a row, so I'm a little burned out.) As I've said in the past, there's only ever going to be one story to tell about Pixar, and that's the story of their first major stumble. Some have said that came with CARS, but I disagree. Pixar's worst feature film is still light years ahead of every other studio's best. When they drop below the high water mark of other studios, then we'll tell the story of Pixar's descent from the heavens. That story, however, will not be told today.

As I write this, I'm listening to a compilation of Thomas Newman's scores. I think I've mentioned in the past that he's my favourite film composer, and I think he should almost be considered an auteur. So many films are credited to the film's director, but occasionally you'll see the praise heaped primarily on the producer (like, say, Jerry Bruckheimer) or the writer (like, say, Charlie Kaufman), and their name is stamped above the title so you know what you're in for. Newman's the only composer I think should be afforded such treatment. I don't even think that most people get how influential he's been, and I strongly suspect that his contribution has given some films a box office taking that they would not normally have achieved. His WALL-E score sounded like it was one of his best, but I'd have to listen to it isolated to judge it properly. Afraid I was too immersed in the story, which is, of course, the whole point.

One thing I wasn't expecting was the combination of real and CGI humans. I'd heard Fred Willard would be appearing in the film, and thought that's how all the humans would be portrayed. Not so. I'm sure the decision to mix the two was agonised over, and I'm not convinced they made the right one. I think the mix of cartoonish people and real actors is too jarring, but it's not enough to put me off the film.

Brilliant, funny, and innovative. Pixar tends to turn me into a catchphrase-spurting PR machine, and I love them for it. Bring on UP.

REDBELT

David Mamet's films are curiously underappreciated. STATE AND MAIN is a film that never stops being funny, SPARTAN is an amazing piece of work, and THE SPANISH PRISONER is an absolute work of genius that I cannot recommend highly enough. It's been four years since his last directorial outing, and I was desperate to get back into his very specific world of hard-nosed dialogue and constructed characters.

REDBELT features Chiwetal Ejiofor as a jiujitsu instructor suffering from financial problems. And long-time readers (or even people who have just read the above two reviews) will know my aversion to plot spoilers, so I shall leave it at that.

Though not amongst his best work, REDBELT is solid, complex and twisty. The dialogue jumps out from word one; you can't quite tell what it is Mamet is doing with words, but you know nobody else does it. It propels the story along in a way that dialogue in other films just doesn't. Elsewhere, it's largely perfunctory. It's commentary for characterisation. Here, every word somehow pushes the narrative in a new direction, nudging it gently off course into unknown territory. It's a masterful thing to watch, and re-viewings of his other films have proven to me that it takes multiple viewings to truly understand the labyrinthian plots he constructs over seemingly simple stories.

Ejiofor is, as we all know, an incredible actor, and without wanting to get too hyperbolic (I try to avoid it, but I know I do it a lot) this is probably his best work. He's the honourable martial arts instructor, but he's not doing the schtick we've seen so many times before from this sort of character. He's still human, he's still flawed, and that somehow makes his character all the more incredible. The ending may lose some people in its fairy tale-esque nature, but for my money it's all earned.

Definitely recommended.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

I think everybody needs to calm down a bit: this film is not the second coming.

It's good. It's quite good. Certainly compared to most of the imported comedies we get from the US, this is very, very good. It's not, however, great, and I'm starting to wonder why this film is causing all the fuss that it is.

I suppose a lot is to do with Seth Rogen and James Franco, both of whom are actually spot-on in this film. I really like both of these guys, and so the fact that they turned out to be the film's high points (get it?!?) didn't surprise me a whole lot. What did surprise me is the script. As funny as some moments are, far too much of the film is lazy.

Far too often do we see the film resort to lowest common denominator stuff. Like, you know, old ladies saying "shit!" a lot, or middle-aged men saying it, or middle-aged women, or... seriously, how many times are they going to do this? Old people swearing is supposed to be laugh-out-loud funny? Really? This is the sort of thing I expect from a mid-grade Adam Sandler film. Weren't films from the Apatow Factory supposed to promise more than that?

Well, they do. And this one does. And don't forget, you're looking at the guy whose favourite comedy of the year (so far) is WALK HARD. No, seriously.

PINEAPPLE EXPRESS does give us more than just old ladies swearing, and some of it is quite good. The character work (between the two leads, and only the two leads) is great. The plot itself doesn't really recreate the "greatness" of 80s films the way, I don't know, Tarantino would do it. What I mean is that Tarantino will take a genre that some of us remember more fondly that it perhaps deserves, and make a film that actually does live up to our memory instead of the reality. I think I was expecting something similar from EXPRESS, something that paid homage to 80s buddy movies whilst doing something a bit grander. Instead, it's basically just your stock-standard 80s drug/crime movie plot with no embellishment, which is fine if that's what you're after, but I was expecting more.

It's a good comedy, not a great one; worth seeing, but don't expect it to change your life.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY

HELLBOY II had the cards stacked against it. Sure, it's got a terrific central character, is a follow-up to a really enjoyable film, and is directed by geek favourite Guillermo Del Toro, but it really couldn't have come at a worse time. Personally, I'm suffering from post-film festival big screen fatigue, not to mention post-US Summer season comic book movie fatigue. When I tally them up, there hasn't actually been the overload of comic book films that I vaguely recall there being, but it does seem like we're coming out the other side of a glut. And so, it bears emphasising: HELLBOY II could really not have come at a worse time.

It's therefore a testament to just how great this film is that it managed to entertain me throughout. With no Agent Myers to get in the way of the glorious freaks, it feels a lot like this is the HELLBOY movie Del Toro always wanted to make. Hellboy himself is a great central character, childish at times, heroic at others. Ron Perlman really is the only guy who could have played him, and he brings even more charisma to the role than he did the first time around.

Doug Jones does a great job as both the body and voice of Abe Sapien, but I do miss the similar-but-distinct tones of David Hyde Pierce. On the other hand, I found myself enamoured with Seth MacFarlane, who is great as the voice of Johann Kraus. I have a particular disdain for the utterly unfunny "Family Guy" (which I thought I was alone in until I saw "South Park" and their "Cartoon Wars"... vindication!), but I've always been impressed with MacFarlane's voice work. I've always said that, like Mike Myers, he should do other people's material, as he's clearly hamstrung by his own work. Though this isn't exactly a comic performance, he does sell it well.

Aside from the unnecessarily rubbish CGI young Hellboy in the beginning, there really is nothing to complain about in HELLBOY II. It's a really fun, really enjoyable film that, even after the ball-busting IRON MAN and DARK KNIGHT, deserves to find a big audience.

NEXT WEEK

- Mel Gibson continues his return-to-acting phase, starring alongside Drew Barrymore in Woody Allen's DRIVING IN CARS WITH GOYS

- "Top Gear" presenter James May to play Paul Greengrass in Paul Greengrass's hardhitting look at the making of UNITED 93

- George Lucas releases STAR WARS: CLONE WARS, a poorly-animated film set between two of the STAR WARS prequels

Peace out,

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 18, 2008, 4:29 a.m. CST

    ahem...

    by smylexx

    Did you mention Clone Wars? Does that mean we can all bombard this talkback with venom and Lucas-Bashing? Yay!!!

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 4:31 a.m. CST

    I don't get why a lot of people are saying...

    by TheMcflyFarm

    that Pineapple Express relied heavily on the simply the use of profanity to get laughs. I seriously didn't notice a single instant where that was the case.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 4:34 a.m. CST

    ahem...

    by smylexx

    Actually phoenixmagimoomoo, i was first which means that, as i type, i am doing the special-dance-of-joy while making myself a celebratory pancake. Squeal!!

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 4:38 a.m. CST

    ahem...

    by smylexx

    Oh, and George Lucas didn't rape my childhood but he did once touch me in my swimsuit areas and once, while travelling by bus, he slid his hand over my inner thigh. Does anyone have Denny Crane's telephone number?

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 5:49 a.m. CST

    McflyFarm

    by Latauro

    There were a couple of instances with James Franco's grandmother. And most of the scene with Ed Begley Jnr/Nora Dunn was them getting laughs by saying naughty words.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 7:16 a.m. CST

    We isn't Seth Rogan doing a Green Lantern already?

    by quantize

    At least that's what he said on Stern a few days ago...and they're looking for a director already.. i wouldn't pay much heed to JLA rumours...apparently its indefinitely shelved..

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 7:55 a.m. CST

    PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

    by palewook

    wasn't that funny. Had a couple of moments. It's not a bad movie. It's not the greatest movie ever made either. Hype central got a hold on this title long ago. <P> if you go in with high expectations, you'll be disappointed. but if you go in high, ...

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 9:34 a.m. CST

    'Next Week' me had me on the floor with Clone Wars

    by MMacKK

    Im so unexcited by the prospect of that film. Its not Star Wars.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 10:12 a.m. CST

    rubbish CGI young hellboy?

    by Bouncy X

    ummm wasnt that just some kid in makeup.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 3:02 p.m. CST

    I couldn't agree with you more.AND I WENT IN HIGH

    by Broseph

    PINEAPPLE EXPRESS by palewook Aug 18th, 2008 07:55:15 AM wasn't that funny. Had a couple of moments. It's not a bad movie. It's not the greatest movie ever made either. Hype central got a hold on this title long ago. if you go in with high expectations, you'll be disappointed.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 5:32 p.m. CST

    You want maybe to talk like Yoda all the time, yes?

    by half vader

    Maybe it's 'cause you're Jewish?

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 5:40 p.m. CST

    half vader

    by Latauro

    If it was the Jewish thing, then I'd probably talk like Watto all the time...

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 7:40 p.m. CST

    Tania Zaetta

    by chipps

    so fucked those guys. i have it on good authority.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 7:45 p.m. CST

    i must be the only

    by chipps

    person not to be crazy in love with the spanish prisoner. sure it was ok but shit, dudes love it.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 8:19 p.m. CST

    didn't tom sizemore have sex with paris hilton?

    by chipps

    no more saving private ryan for you.

  • Aug. 18, 2008, 9:15 p.m. CST

    "Pineapple Ex. is not the second coming"

    by Cruel_Kingdom

    No shit. It sucked.

  • Aug. 19, 2008, 12:50 a.m. CST

    True Lat...

    by half vader

    But Yoda was there first! One thing I can't stand about the prequels and even worse in Clone Wars is they've forgotten that he only did the quirky Jewishspeak/crazy sensei on the side of the road thing at certain times, and when things got serious he spoke straight. <p> They can't even get that right these days.

  • Aug. 19, 2008, 12:52 a.m. CST

    When you say the thread is late, do you mean

    by half vader

    since writing it and before posting it? 'Cause Tropic Thunder is out in 2 days. And I know I'm stupid, but I just don't get the Clone Wars joke, it having opened last week, and before the Americans got it. I saw it, thank God I didn't pay for it... <p> Can someone explain the joke? In my defence it's 3.50 in the afternoon and I've just worked an all-nighter... Whoop! Whoop! Whoop (runs around all delirious-like with undies on head)! <p> P.S. I keep posting about that damn Pixar release stupidity every time it happens and I know you've answered me before Lat, but it looks like the brainlessness may have finished as Up will be released at the same time as the States according to the Hoyts site. Ironically the first harder-to-sell to the kiddies release so it may not even matter, but I'll take good news where I can get it.

  • Aug. 19, 2008, 12:53 a.m. CST

    But not as late as the Dark Knight animation!

    by half vader

    O.K. I'll stop now. I'm all loopy.

  • Aug. 19, 2008, 5:47 a.m. CST

    Topic: Thunder

    by Latauro

    I just meant late in that it's been weeks and weeks since the last proper AICN-D. Although I do acknowledge that I'm the only one to really notice. Re: Clone Wars. The Next Week section isn't real news, it contains hypotheticals that are usually too ridiculous to be considered by normal people. A la... (and I just got back from Tropic Thunder then; it's awesome)

  • Aug. 19, 2008, 6:18 a.m. CST

    Wow. Just...Wow.

    by WhinyNegativeBitch

    Eric Bana is going to get a theatrical release for a fucking home video of his car. George Miller is making a sequal to a stinking pile of shit that Australian critics are looking forward to. Scott Hicks flames out in the U.S. Returns home to make a movie about some orphan kids warming the long thought dead heart of a curmudgeony drunk and some doofus raises 6 million to make a "so bad its good!" slapstick comedy with Tania Zaetta, about, get this, Ninjas! Aren't they funny and hip! Fuck me, the Australian film industry deserves to erase itself from the face of the planet.

  • Aug. 19, 2008, 7:01 a.m. CST

    I agree about Mike Meyers - Seth, not so much

    by the power of GREYSKULL

    Dark Knight is about to outsell Star Wars (the one Lucas would prefer you call A New Hope) but neither is going to make a move on Titanic any time soon. <p> Don't get all the Pineapple love, but Tropic looks set to steal that Thunder (sorry, couldn't resist the pun)

  • Aug. 20, 2008, 3:30 a.m. CST

    Oh I've always understood the 'next week' stuff

    by half vader

    But I feel like an absolute moron for not getting the Clone Wars one. And now I HAVE had sleep!