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AICN-Downunder: THE READER, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, And Your Chance To Lick Cate Blanchett!

I am involved in high treason with all means available to me. Can I count you in?

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AICN-DOWNUNDER

2009 is already a better year for cinema than 2008. I'm two films off completing my Oscar round-up (MILK and DOUBT will be watched in a mini-marathon this weekend), and though there are no contenders for my Best of All-Time list, I've already seen quite a few that may be on the Best of the Year list. And this time last year the only contender I had was WALK HARD. Even VALKYRIE (reviewed below), which certainly won't be on my best list, was really enjoyable, and definitely worth the price of admission (had I paid). The moral is to get out there and go see some good cinema... once you've finished this column. Happy Australia Day!

NEWS

Oscar nominations are in, and if you haven't read about this elsewhere, then how on Earth did you find this column? Anyway, to give out-shouts to local kids made good, the big news is the posthumous nomination given to Heath Ledger for his role as someone in something. Sorry, I hate doing research. Catherine Martin was given a perplexing nomination for the costumes in AUSTRALIA (how much work does it take to rub dirt into Hugh Jackman's shirt, anyway?). As much as I thought DARK KNIGHT was overrated, where the hell was its costume nomination? And how did Deakins not get a nod for REVOLUTIONARY ROAD? Okay, sorry, off-topic. Australian Lee Smith received a well-deserved nomination for editing DARK KNIGHT, as did compatriot Ben Snow for his work on IRON MAN visual effects.

Prediction: every bit of news about film financing over the next couple of years will begin with "The economic downturn certainly hasn't hurt the film industry...". Film Victoria, Victoria's film funding body responsible for films in Victoria, has just injected seven million dollars into local films and documentaries. Productions include THE LOVED ONES, I LOVE YOU TOO, LOVE AND MORTAR, and PRISON SINGS, which will presumably be renamed PRISON LOVES.

Because it's a slow news day, Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman and Geoffrey Rush have all seen their pictures appear on stamps in Australia. Quoth Blanchett: "I am utterly, deeply humbled and chuffed by the fact that I'm a stamped. I'm going to be licked by millions of Australians and I can't wait." Neither can we, Cate.

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

59TH BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

My anticipation for MARY AND MAX, Adam Elliot's follow-up to his Oscar-winning animated short HARVIE KRUMPET, is pretty high. Not only was it selected to open the Sundance Film Festival (and has been getting some rave reviews), but it's just been selected to screen in the Generation 14plus section at one of the many festivals that claims the acronym BIFF.

2009 BIGPOND ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL

As part of my continued "God, the Adelaide Film Festival looks fucking great this year" series, there are a few updates to report. Last week, we said that Sarah Watts's MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX, her follow-up to LOOK BOTH WAYS, would play at the festival, and now it seems that it will be the opening night film. Perhaps less excitingly (for me, anyway), Stephan Elliot (PRISCILLA) will close out the festival with EASY VIRTUE, starring Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas and Jessica Biel. Additionally, I'm more than a little intrigued by the work of Lynette Wallworth, not so much a filmmaker as a visual artist, whose piece "Duality of Light" will feature in conjunction with the festival at the Samstag Museum of Art. It's an interesting expansion on AFF's part of the typical film festival programme, and Wallwroth is an interesting choice. Her work has been displayed at the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and this year's Sundance Film Festival.

2009 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

According to Inside Film, Matthew Newton's THREE BLIND MICE will play at this March's SXSW, before beginning its run on the Independent Film Channel. The film picked up the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at last November's London Film Festival, and soon after screened at Hollywood's AFI Fest.

BOX OFFICE

I've seen a lot of brilliant films over the past couple of weeks, yet this list contains one film I quite liked (BOLT) and four films whose screenings I studiously avoided. Sigh. Hopefully, next column, things will improve.

1. BRIDE WARS
2. ROLE MODELS
3. HOTEL FOR DOGS
4. BOLT
5. YES MAN

RELEASED THIS WEEK

You're like Australian audiences in Summer when they're presented with an interesting foreign film: no CLASS! (lolz), Clint Eastwood warbles his way out of an Original Song nomination, Sam Mendes makes another film destined to be misunderstood, Bill Nighy saves the makeup department a lot of money, and then helps Tom Cruise smack Hitler.

THE CLASS
GRAN TORINO
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD
UNDERWORLD 3: RISE OF THE LYCANS
VALKYRIE

REVIEWS

VALKYRIE

Australian/NZ release: January 22

In a song I've been singing far too often lately, VALKYRIE is a film I liked but didn't love. There isn't anything inherently wrong with liking something, but when all the elements are in place for a true classic, the shortcomings (however intangible) are somewhat obvious. When a film promises greatness and delivers goodness, it's usually more disappointing than when a potentially awful film turns out to be awful. But then, promising greatness and delivering goodness seems to be Singer's modus operandi of late.

VALKYRIE tells the story of the (SPOILER ALERT) failed internal plot to kill Hitler by high-ranking members of the German army, centering on Claus von Stauffenberg, the officer who spearheaded the assassination attempt. Though I consider the events of World War II in particular to contain stories we should continue to tell and retell ("Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," says philosopher George Santayana), there is always an important question that must accompany stories of this nature: what relevance does this hold today?

If the Nazis were the biggest threat (in terms of warring humans) of the 20th Century, then surely this Century's equivalent is terrorism, particularly that of Islamic fundamentalism. Those fearing a disproportionate backlash against anyone even vaguely resembling this threat have rightly pointed out that there is a world of difference between Muslims and those who kill in the name of Islam. As such, when the film makes the point that there is a huge difference between Nazis and Germans, there is a sense that this message is timely, that it holds a huge relevance for today.

That central message -- and it's a shame Tom's already used the title A FEW GOOD MEN -- is not delivered with a massive amount of subtlety, but the parallels drawn with the Biblical story of Babylon are potent. It's this message that elevates the story from a simple retelling of an interesting event to something more profound.

Despite the ending being a matter of public record for a great many decades, there is a surprising amount of tension throughout the film. Singer still directs with more talent than most other directors. Tom Cruise gives another great performance, even if his acting does get overshadowed by tabloid nonsense. The cast is terrific, even if the disparity in styles and accents does distract. (Thankfully, this isn't as bad as, say, THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, and doesn't detract from the film too much.)

Much like David Fincher's THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, VALKYRIE is a very, very good film that can see Greatness from where it stands. That it doesn't achieve that greatness is somewhat disappointing, but doesn't get in the way of what is a very enjoyable and (hopefully) educational film.

THE READER

Australian/NZ release: February 19

The day after VALKYRIE, the screening of THE READER was scheduled. Before THE READER? A trailer for Ed Zwick's DEFIANCE. This was clearly the week of Nazi Films.

Although, that's not entirely true. THE READER is hardly a film about Nazis, although the fact that it's set in post-war Germany makes these themes unavoidable. I will confess this: I knew nothing about THE READER before I saw it. I knew the title and I knew who the two leads were. That was it. I know bleat on and on about this, but seeing a film with no expectations is the only way to fly. Had I known the big mid-film plot twist, I would have been waiting it out, looking for clues, treading water until it came. It would have tainted my perception of the film's first half.

As a result, the way the story unfolded was a marvel. Nearly every plot turn was unexpected, and though it isn't exactly a labyrinthian plot of twists and turns, it still contains a certain number of surprises. What has interested me is that this is, more than anything, a character study, and that character studies are as reliant on surprising plot revelations as are strongly narrative-driven films.

Naturally, I'm determined to not talk about any of the story so as to hopefully allow others to replicate my own experience, so I shall merely throw out the highlights: Kate Winslet is unbelievably good, Ralph Fiennes is as perfectly understated as ever, and relative unknown David Kross -- who plays the younger version of Fiennes's character for the majority of the film -- absolutely steals the show. Rather than just sticking to variations on a theme, Kross gives us a real character journey, masterfully portraying the changes that shape his character. Much credit to director Stephen Daldry who, in terms of feature films, is three for three as far as I'm concerned. Between BILLY ELLIOT, THE HOURS and now THE READER, Daldry has cemented himself as one of the most interesting and talented directors working today. Likewise, the masterful screenplay by David Hare is also to be commended.

It's a terrific film, probably the best of the year (thus far), and one you really should rush out and see.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD

Australian/NZ release: January 22

Sam Mendes is one of my favourite filmmakers, though my adoration of his work seems to be inverse to conventional thinking. There's no opinion you can have on AMERICAN BEAUTY that hasn't been espoused endlessly by others already ("It's brilliant!" "It's terrible!" "It's dated poorly!" "It still holds up!"), and though I've only seen it once, I did thoroughly enjoy JARHEAD... but it's ROAD TO PERDITION that does it for me. I know, it's his least popular film, but in my eyes, it's perfect. There's nothing I don't love about the film. So, it's with that memory of a perfect movie in mind that I eagerly look forward to each of his films.

REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is a very interesting film. It takes a while to figure out what kind of film it's trying to be.

Sam Mendes is at his best when he's at his most subtle. Though many think of him in relation to flowers falling onto Mena Suvari and somewhat overwrought Kevin Spacey narration, he excels when his direction is sleight of hand, when he's showing us things without it being obvious that he's doing so. His approach to REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is far more akin to ROAD TO PERDITION than AMERICAN BEAUTY; it's restrained, tempered, cunning.

Those who have seen REVOLUTIONARY ROAD may tend to disagree, and I understand completely. After all, it's a melodrama. The script, as adapted by Justin Haythe from Richard Yates's novel, is melodramatic. Characters don't just say what they're feeling, they yell it. There's no plot to speak of; it's all about these two people and how they deal with one another. Whilst Sam Mendes is more than capable of handling the melodramatic moments, he largely directs it as if it's a straightforward drama, and therein lies the key to the film's success.

I spoke in my WALL-E review of how Thomas Newman, hands-down my favourite film composer of all time, can be considered an auteur of his work. Usually, the director is the auteur, but in some cases, that unique voice of authorship can belong to the screenwriter (Charlie Kaufman), the editor (Thelma Schoonmaker), or the producer (Jerry Bruckheimer). I consider Newman to be one of the few composers -- or, perhaps, the only one -- who can lay claim to being the author of the films he scores. I believe most people haven't truly assessed the impact his scores have had on the success of the films they accompany. One person who seems to understand this above all others is Mendes. After Newman essentially gave AMERICAN BEAUTY its voice, Mendes used him to brilliant effect ever since. Here, Newman is the key that ties the dramatic elements to the melodramatic ones, so that two styles that would have been otherwise discordant and incompatible fit together seamlessly.

The script's style, it should be said, does not detract at all from its substance. This is a film that could only ever be set in the 1950s, but could never possibly be made in the 1950s. It's a complete and merciless dissemination of the American Dream, perhaps the most cutting criticism of the capitalist system that has ever come from a major Hollywood studio. Its subversiveness is hidden beautifully behind its faux conventionality, and most people who say they've seen all this before clearly haven't been paying attention.

And so, the story of two people who are coming to terms with dreams vs reality, with freedom vs money, with love vs hate, is actually a raging success. What could have been a weepy, a TV movie-of-the-week, a disposable piece of awards-bait, actually becomes a deeply affecting and utterly indisposable work of art. Those elements I spoke of, the script, the direction, the score, are fine as individual pieces, but collaborate to create something more. This film is truly more than the sum of its parts, and even though those parts -- including Roger Deakins's flawless cinematography, Leonardo DiCaprio's continued proof that he's one of the best actors working today, and Kate Winslet solidifying herself (betwen this and THE READER) as being one of the greatest actresses anywhere -- may all be brilliant, they combine into a film that is one of the best dramatic character studies we're likely to see for a long time.

NEXT WEEK

- Ridley Scott to make a series of seafaring biopics about English actors, starting with WHITE SPALL

- Bob Dylan to record the theme for the next Bond film, "Bond on Bond"

- Joss Whedon to create a new TV show about a progressive electronic composer gaining a soul and solving crimes, in "Vangel"

Peace out,

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 23, 2009, 10:57 p.m. CST

    First!

    by Jesus_was_Canadian

    Twice in one week!?!?

  • Jan. 23, 2009, 11:18 p.m. CST

    Damn

    by Turd Furgeson

    I would have been first but I was too busy staring at that Damn Stallone picture....

  • Jan. 23, 2009, 11:22 p.m. CST

    Forget it!

    by ShogunMaster

    She licks me, or no deal!

  • Jan. 23, 2009, 11:44 p.m. CST

    Wow...

    by TroutMaskReplicant

    Could you have picked a worse time to champion The Reader and Revolutionary Road with all their recent Oscar-Bait-Hate?

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:26 a.m. CST

    Trout

    by Latauro

    Actually, I'd argue I picked the best time. Oscar-bait they may be, but that doesn't stop them from being great films. The same way that Iron Man being money-bait didn't hinder its quality at all.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:36 a.m. CST

    ITA on Revolutionary Road.

    by flickchick85

    I get that the movie was very polarizing (and I can see why), but I think it's actually my favorite Sam Mendes film now. The acting, writing, direction, score, and production values were all spot-on. I can't believe Brad Pitt got an Oscar nod for Benjamin Button (a lovely film, but hardly a special or memorable performance from Pitt), while Leo, who delivered what I think was his best performance yet, got left out in the cold. That's just criminal. And Kate deserved one for this, too, but if just one nomination makes her more likely to win, then maybe one good thing will come out of these glaring snubs.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:38 a.m. CST

    I Would...

    by Crow3711

    Lick Cate Blanchett all over. What a woman. I would do truly wondrous things to her.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:43 a.m. CST

    Revolutionary Road

    by zikade zarathos

    was absolutely terrible. And I've been a HUGE Mendes apologist in the past. But it critically misunderstands the book by buying into the Wheeler's bullshit (that they're "better" and that suburbia is crushing them). THE READER was good though.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:54 a.m. CST

    The movie DID NOT buy into the Wheeler's "We're Special" BS

    by flickchick85

    I didn't read the book, but that's the exact opposite impression the movie gave me: Their choices put them there...just like everyone else - ergo, they were never special.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:55 a.m. CST

    Maybe the book reinforced it more, though?

    by flickchick85

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:55 a.m. CST

    THE READER Is A Very Good Movie

    by mrbeaks

    Better than FROST/NIXON or MILK. Not better than THE DARK KNIGHT, but blame the lockstep praise for the other two if you're going to get upset over TDK's snub.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:56 a.m. CST

    I don't know...

    by wampa 1

    ...but it sure smells good!

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 2:21 a.m. CST

    Why isnt Heath Ledger a stamp too???

    by theycallmemrglass

    He outshone them all the Aussie actors this year. Having said that, I too would be only licking Cate Blanchett...

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 2:40 a.m. CST

    im glad someone besides me liked...

    by thecrimsoncurse

    revolutionary road.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 2:41 a.m. CST

    THATS NOT A KNIFE!!!!

    by Groothewarrior

    Now THATS a KNIFE!!!!

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 3:10 a.m. CST

    Hehe

    by TroutMaskReplicant

    I thought Latauro or Beaks was gonna try tearing me a new one. In fairness, I have yet to see Revolutionary Road or The Reader, there are other films that need my money more. I'm sort of "reflecting" the bad buzz I've gotten throughout the internet. For instance Devin Faraci's "The Reader...Wtf?" article. And he certainly wasn't saying that just because TDK wasn't nominated for best picture.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 4:08 a.m. CST

    Nobody liked BOLT. You were tricked into liking it.

    by Orionsangels

    3D will do this to you. You're so amazed by the 3D. That you get pulled into the film. You're studying the 3D layers. Wow look at the hamster's hamsterball. It has a 3D outerlayer, ooooh ahhhh. After you leave the theater. You're thinking, what a great movie! No it wasn't good. Even Journey to the center of the earth was enjoyable in 3D. Then you watch it at home on DVD and throw up a few times. I've seen BOLT in 3D and I loved it and non3D and I couldn't sit through it. I have no desire to see that movie again, unless it's in Tru3D.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 4:56 a.m. CST

    zikade zarathos

    by quantize

    You idiot, that's horseshit, the film simply reflects the delusion the couple have in the book, that they're 'better'...it doesnt SUPPORT the idea...what drugs are you fuckin on? PASS

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 6:28 a.m. CST

    The Reader is better than Frost/Nixon?

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    Frost/Nixon was possibly one of my favourite movies of 2008. The two main performances were great, the script was wonderful and I would even praise the direction.<p>If The Reader is better then I'm going to have to watch it. Ralph Feinnes is also one of my favourite actors (you have to admit that he's pretty great in almost anything whether it's Harry Potter or - one of my favourite movies of all time - The End Of The Affair).<p>I shall watch this.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 6:31 a.m. CST

    Is Kate Winslett really such a great actress?

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    Okay, I've never seen her give a bad performance but she seems to get award nominations for everything she does. Glenn Close is a great actress. Meryll Streep is a great actress. I don't know whether I could honestly put Kate Winslett in the same box with those two.<p>But that's just me, I suppose.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 6:33 a.m. CST

    I licked Cate Blanchett once

    by IAmMrMonkey!

    She tasted of strawberry.<p>I liked it and will do it again when she's not looking.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 7:49 a.m. CST

    I would easily

    by hike499

    put Kate Winslet in the field of Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. Minus "The Holiday" a couple of years ago, she has made really excellent choices and is compelling the majority of time.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 9:01 a.m. CST

    I yelled at cate blanchett's roommate once

    by ironic_name

    she was deaf, and I was 9.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 10:06 a.m. CST

    BRIDE WARS is #1 in Australia? Fuck it, it's time to invade the

    by YackBacker

    Holy crap, you guys like to eat shit.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 10:20 a.m. CST

    blanchette licked my roommate once-

    by zom-bot.com

    he was 19 and blind, but he still enjoyed it.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 10:48 a.m. CST

    uh, i was promised a chance to lick cate blanchette...

    by Warcraft

    i skipped through, but i didn't see anything about licking cate, can someone enlighten me? i'd really like to lick cate blanchette, lol. no seriously, please help me out.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 11:39 a.m. CST

    Sorry Warcraft, it's Nicole's bony arse for you mate.

    by half vader

    Or worse still, Rusty or Rush. Eww. That's what you get for not reading the article properly, slackarse. <p> Cate Blanchett is my age, but somehow she seems older. Maybe it's my inherent lack of poise and refinement or something...

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:13 p.m. CST

    I'd rather lick Cate Winslet

    by kafka07

    and btw why didn't Dark knight get more &*%$! nominations?? argh

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 12:31 p.m. CST

    Saw BOLT in plain ol' 2D...

    by Darkman

    ...and loved it. Where's your deliverer NOW, Moses?

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 3:30 p.m. CST

    the reader

    by applescruff

    was higher on my best of 2008 list than Frost/Nixon and Milk, but lower than Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire. And only Slumdog was in my top 10 out of those movies. I think Button was 16, The Reader was 18 and Milk was 20 (Frost/Nixon didn't make it, though I did really like it). The Dark Knight was the best though, followed by WALL-E.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 6:34 p.m. CST

    Agree about Bolt

    by Toonol

    Bolt and Wall-E were the two best animated movies in 2008. I didn't see it in 3-d.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 7:06 p.m. CST

    Glenn Close is a great actress- within her pervue

    by judderman

    She has essayed every possible permutation of the "psychopathic icy bitch" from one extreme (Fatal Attraction) to the other (Damages) since World According to Garp. Streep can play icy bitch (Devil Wears Prada) but can also play sweet (Sophie's Choice, Bridges of Madison County). Until Winslet can assay half a film in Polish I won't put her on the same level as Streep, but I would definitely place her above Close.

  • Jan. 24, 2009, 10:26 p.m. CST

    my brother [presumably] licked cate's deaf roommate

    by ironic_name

    hence me meeting her [the roommate, I don't think I met ms blanchette, if I did she probably thought I was 'slow']

  • Jan. 25, 2009, 7:35 a.m. CST

    Whats with the Role Models hate, Lat?

    by The Ringwraith

    It was fantastic, you should give it a chance. Big suprise in every way, up there with Superbad and Knocked up in my opinion.

  • Jan. 25, 2009, 12:10 p.m. CST

    Frost/Nixon was the Best Film of 2008

    by ass clown

    I went into this movie expecting a history lesson and a slightly above average piece of cinema, but I left emotionally moved and blown away by the two lead performances. Slumdog Millionaire 2nd, Revolutionary Road 3rd, Gran Torino 4th. I loved the Dark Knight, but I kind of agree with the academy in separating this from the rest of the pack. Heath Ledger will win best supporting actgor though. Also, I'll give a nod to the Wrestler for Mickey Rourke's performance, but the film was too slow to rank up there with the best pics of the year.

  • Jan. 25, 2009, 12:11 p.m. CST

    If Anything was

    by ass clown

  • Jan. 25, 2009, 12:14 p.m. CST

    If anything was overrated in 2008 it was The Curious Case of Ben

    by ass clown

    Dont get me wrong this was an interesting and above average movie. It, however, could have easily been shortened, felt a little too akin to Forest Gump, and was not nearly as well acted as the academy would have you believe. Im a Brad Pitt fan, I think he, along with Christian Bale and Leonardo Dicaprio, choose the best roles in Hollywood and make them their own.

  • Jan. 25, 2009, 6:24 p.m. CST

    "The film was too SLOW to rank up there"?!

    by half vader

    So, only moderately paced, MTV-friendly stuff should be eligible? Yes yes I know your line probably didn't come out right, but WTF dude?! Nothing inherently wrong with slow pacing!

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