Movie News

AICN Downunder: MARY AND MAX, THE BOAT THAT ROCKED, And A Big Aussie Musical!!!

Published at: March 30, 2009, 2:49 a.m. CST

It's impossible, that's sure. So let's start working.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

Ever since I submitted my Best of 2003 list to AICN and realised afterwards, with horror, that I'd left the sublime RUSSIAN ARK off it, I've kept a running tally over the best and worst of the year. The AICN-Downunder Annual is a document that is created in January, and added to as the year goes on. This time last year I had one film in my potential best list. This year, I have eleven. But that's not the amazing part: three of them are Australian.

There's a quiet buzz amongst many Australian film critics this year about how many great local films there have been... and it's only March! Films I have been excited about: TWO FISTS ONE HEART, SAMSON AND DELILAH , LOVE THE BEAST , THE HORSEMAN, and MARY AND MAX (see below). Films I've not yet seen: THE COMBINATION and SALVATION. Films that, hypothetically, I hated so much that I couldn't actually bring myself to review them: BEAUTIFUL.

That's a pretty respectable list! Before we all get too excited, I don't think it represents a seachange in how films are funded in Australia. Good films this year don't necessarily mean good films next year, or the year after. It's okay to be excited about the cinematic brilliance we've been treated to so far in 2009, but don't become complacent that the problem of Australian cinema is solved for good. It's just a temporary high tide, but a welcome one nonetheless.

NEWS

You know how you sometimes wish your favourite band/director/author would produce a new work a minimum of once a year, and find the wait between such works interminable? It's one of the reasons that being a fan of Woody Allen is so rewarding, especially given the current creative rebirth he's been so gloriously experiencing. As we patiently await the terrific-looking WHATEVER WORKS, news has come through on what his 2010 film will look like. Australians Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts have joined Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin and Anthony Hopkins on what is already my favourite film of next year.

According to Inside Film, pre-production will soon start on A HEARTBEAT AWAY, an $8 million dollar musical. No, seriously. (Translation for American readers: imagine an "arthouse" production company greenlighting an $80 million musical comedy. That's why the "no, seriously" was necessary.) The film follows young man obsessed with becoming a rock star, but instead must become the musical director of his father's brass band. Casting has just begun on the film, which is being directed by Gale Edwards, who has directed stage versions of "Jerry Springer: The Musical", "Jesus Christ Superstar" and, according to IMDb, the 2005 musical romance ASPECTS OF LOVE with Albert Finney and Sarah Brightman. I, for one, am deeply intrigued.

SAMSON AND DELILAH , the Australian film that takes every cliche you hate about Australian film and manages to turn them into something utterly brilliant, has had a release date change. The film will now be released on May 7. I will be taking every opportunity to bang on about it between now and then until you're all conditioned to go see it.

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

Melbourne International Animation Festival 2009

I might be able to cover this when it comes around (looking forward to that!), but for those who want to book ahead, MIAF is apparently the third largest animation festival in the world. It will take place at Melbourne's Australian Centre for the Moving Image in June 22-28, and features movies from over forty countries. Given how gloriously surprised I've been by animation over the past year (see MARY AND MAX review below), I'm really looking forward to this.

BOX OFFICE

Cause and effect, people. I write thousands of words about brilliant new Australian films, and everybody goes to see CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC and PAUL BLART: MALL COP, the latter being a title that almost makes me vomit when I read it. Still, word is that LOVE THE BEAST is doing quite well for an Australian documentary, and THE COMBINATION is also doing well, largely because of the threat of violence that seems to accompany every showing.

1. CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC
2. PAUL BLART: MALL COP
3. DUPLICITY
4. WATCHMEN
5. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

RELEASED THESE PAST TWO WEEKS

Renny Harlin escapes from Director Prison, Linus Roache plays a spice baron in a film not based on a Frank Herbert novel, Fernando Meirelles chickens out and doesn't film from the point of view of a blind person, California wine makers school the French with their new Freedom Grapes, Clive Owen continues his I-turned-down-James Bond therapy, Proyas narrowly fails at his attempt to make a pre-apocalyptic film worse than THE HAPPENING, Kevin James takes a bad idea for a film and ruins it, Paul Cox puts Barry Humphries and Bud Tingwell in a film together (equals automatic must-see), a Perth-set film about boxing is actually very good, Jim Carrey seriously narrates this, A TALE OF TWO SISTERS is remade with an uninteresting title, and Michelle Williams co-stars with a dog... it's "Dawson's Creek" all over again!!! (imagine me high-fiving jerks at a pub after shouting that)

12 ROUNDS
BEFORE THE RAINS
BLINDNESS
BOTTLE SHOCK
DUPLICITY
KNOWING
PAUL BLART: MALL COP
SALVATION
TWO FISTS ONE HEART
UNDER THE SEA 3D
THE UNINVITED
WENDY AND LUCY

REVIEWS

MARY AND MAX

Australian release:

April 9, 2009

New Zealand release:

September 10, 2009

When Adam Elliot accepted his 2004 Oscar for HARVIE KRUMPET, it was hard not to like him. He'd slaved away at it, carefully animating the clay bit by little bit, creating a unique, obscure character and story, he'd mentioned SBS programming to the entire world, and casually outed himself without a second thought. I had an instant affection for the man.

That affection did wane ever-so-slightly over the following year, thanks to media saturation. I wouldn't begrudge him a moment of it, as it was truly earned, but one year after his Oscar win, I started to wonder when we were going to hear about the next project. Would he be the pinnacle of one-hit-wonderdom? Would his admirable refusal of offers to make standard Hollywood animated crud (ie: ANIMAL ROADTRIP 3: WACKY SUBTITLE) turn out to be a grave career misfire?

The answer lies in MARY AND MAX, his first feature film, and one of the most beautiful, compelling, heartbreaking, wonderful films you're likely to see this year.

It's the story of a penpal relationship between Mary, an eight year old Australian girl, and Max, an obese, lonely mid-40s New Yorker. As they grow up in their specific, respective ways, they become close friends, opening up to a complete stranger in a way they couldn't with family or friends.

Elliot's skills are undeniable; his character work and his basic directing skills are well above what was displayed in HARVIE KRUMPET (which, I'll reiterate, was a truly wonderful film). Likewise, the voice work by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toni Collette, Eric Bana, Barry Humphries, and the film's standout, now-ten-year-old Bethany Whitmore, is all superb.

The film won't connect with everybody. I'm imagining a lot of parents hurrying their kids out within the first twenty minutes as they come to understand that this is, in no ways, a kid's film. But it does serve as a reminder that animation is not all bright colours and happy endings. It's a dark, comic, real, fantastical look at two very complex characters, with moments of depression that I suspect will shock many.

MARY AND MAX is easily one of the year's best films, and another piece of evidence that 2009 is an amazing year for Australian film. But it also stands alongside PERSEPOLIS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR as a work of 21st century feature animation pitched purely at grown-ups. See it the moment it's released.

THE BOAT THAT ROCKED

Australian/NZ release: April 9, 2009

I like Richard Curtis. A lot. Not only did he write for "Not the Nine O'Clock News", create Mr Bean (which I caught the other day after many years, and was surprised to see that it has aged very, very well), write FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL and NOTTING HILL, and create the terrific "The Vicar of Dibley" -- he co-wrote every single episode of "Blackadder" in its various forms; one of the greatest comedic legacies ever conceived.

It's this adoration of Curtis that has allowed me to forgive BRIDGET JONES: THE EDGE OF REASON and LOVE ACTUALLY, the latter being a film that still looks on paper to be something I would adore, but turned out to be a bit too saccharine, rambling, and mishandled to appeal to me on most levels.

Still, though it was wildly inconvenient for me to get to the BOAT THAT ROCKED screening, I made the effort simply because of Curtis. I had hope. Also, the story of the 1960s pirate radio stations was too tempting to pass up.

The problem is that I have practically no idea how to review it. There are two fairly different reviews I could write, and as I started typing this very sentence, I figured out what to do: I'm going to do two reviews.

Review for people who are hoping for LOVE ACTUALLY in a 1960s period pirate radio setting

It's pretty good. Not brilliant, but for people who love multi-protagonist romances, it's got some great storylines, including a central one about a teen boy hoping to lose his virginity. I know, it sounds like an American teen sex comedy, but it's sweeter than that, and the backdrop of the rock'n'roll rebelliousness gives a nice subtext (ie: England losing its virginity to rock).

Unfortunately, there's no real thrust (pun: pardoned) to the love stories, and they seem to ramble a bit. Will certainly please many romantics, but not anyone who desires a straightforward boy-and-girl A-to-B love story.

Review for people who are really interested in the story behind pirate radio and are hoping for a comedic look at the real story behind it

There's really, truly, no better way to ruin a film than with loaded expectations. You can be forgiven somewhat if the film's publicity leads you to expect a certain kind of film. In this case, the film's publicity machine was pushing the romantic comedy aspect, but of course, that's how you sell a film, so in my utterly brilliant second-guessing of the advertising department, I decided that it was actually going to be a relatively true-to-life look at this amazing English phenomenon through a mildly romanticised lens in order to please the rom-com crowd.

Actually, it's not that at all. Pirate radio is merely the setting. Sure, there's some nice subtext about a boy trying to lose his virginity, which I suppose is a parallel to highlight England's loss of virginity to rock'n'roll, but that inference is about as deep as it gets (and, keep in mind, it's my own inference -- it could be wildly off the mark).

The rambling love stories serve as an irritating, unnecessary, and boringly stereotypical distraction from what is a really interesting story. Well, when I say "really interesting story", I mean the potential, unexplored true story of these pirate stations. Instead, Curtis makes the entire thing up from scratch, which isn't so much bad as it is less interesting. The characters played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Rhys Ifans, Bill Nighy et al are terrifically realised, fascinating, and more than hold your interest, even if their character motivations randomly switch tracks within five minutes. But surely this charisma could have instead been applied to an actual, true story? Or is it unfair of me to direct all my criticism towards something that the film did not intend to do, but something I would have preferred to see? Am I alone in wanting to see a more true-to-life film, or am I reflecting something that a lot of audiences will feel?

The story that Curtis makes up is quite a good one, but its lack of solid direction means that you can pretty much lift the middle hour out and not miss anything. And given the running time exceeded two hours, I feel this would actually make for a better movie. Either way, everyone's going to want something different from it, and I suspect this film will actually appeal to quite a lot of people. And hey, it's bloody well cast. Aside from the afore-mentioned actors, you've got Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Jack Davenport, Rhys Darby, Gemma Arterton, Chris O'Dowd, newcomer Tom Sturridge, and my own personal favourite Katherine Parkinson, who single-handedly makes me like films more just because she's in them.

I know I wrote this review from a very biased, expectation-ridden viewpoint, but I've laid those out bare so you can at least identify my biases. And truth be told, this is a big audience pleaser that will probably make a lot of money. It's just not going to be an immortal classic, which is a shame, because it really could have been.

DVD REVIEWS

MAN ON WIRE (Region 4, Madman Entertainment)

The film: One of last year's best films, and further proof (along with TRUMBO) that documentaries can be about ten times more entertaining, funny, interesting, and rewatchable than most narrative films. Phillippe Petit walks between the Twin Towers on a thin wire, and the story of how he got there and what happens next makes the whole event even more extraordinary. If you've not yet seen this terrific film, you've deprived yourself of the most entertaining hour and a half you're likely to have with a movie.

The extras: As far as I can tell, the Region 1 version has no extras. Americans, you might want to crack out those multi-region players and put in an order with an Australian store. The commentary with director James Marsh is interesting, and the extra interview with Petit is a great addition, but the highlight is the short film made my James Ricketson. Ricketson focuses on the crossing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the key act that led to the Twin Towers crossing, and expands on what is told in the main film. It's a fantastic extra that helps illustrate the overall story, and one of those DVD additions that makes its purchase a necessity.

Should you buy it: Well, yes. Obviously. If you've seen the film, you know that it's a vital addition to your collection, not just to show off to people so they think you're a doco-loving intellectual, but because you're going to want to watch it many times. Make sure you pick up the Region 4 copy, though, as the extras make it more than worth it.

NEXT WEEK

- Emily Blunt signs a seven picture deal with Universal, in an agreement that would see her not appearing in seven of their upcoming films

- Following the casting announcements on the Farrelly Brothers' THREE STOOGES movie, the Wachowski Brothers confirm their LAUREL AND HARDY MEET ABBOTT AND COSTELLO movie will star Russell Crowe, Toby Jones, James van der Beek, and Sidney Poitier

- Lars von Trier proudly announces a production start date on some unwatchable piece of crap

Peace out,

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback

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  • March 30, 2009, 3:11 a.m. CST

    The Boat that Rocked is being advitised differently in the UK

    by Roborob

    Here in the UK the boat that Rocked is being potrayed as a comedic look at the Pirate radio boat that were the only Rodio stations that played what the young wanted to hear. the pure drudgery of The BBC in those days make it amazing that we actualy got Swinging London of the 60's.

  • March 30, 2009, 3:13 a.m. CST

    and besides 1st

    by Roborob

    my 1st 1st that is a 1st for me :-)

  • March 30, 2009, 3:26 a.m. CST

    You really don't like Von Trier, do you?

    by MMacKK

    I noticed that this is another crack, and perhaps less subtle one. Understandable as it may be, it just surprises me somewhat for whatever reason.

  • March 30, 2009, 3:57 a.m. CST

    "Renny Harlin escapes from Director Prison..."

    by Wonder Man

    ...and subsequently re-offends. Nice column, Baron Von Latauro! (I'll have to pay to see an Australian film one of these days... Bad Aussie filmmaker! Bad! *slaps wrist*)

  • March 30, 2009, 4:36 a.m. CST

    Mary and Mad Max

    by suspect999

    Who agrees? Nobody? Well there should be a Mad Max 4 anyway.

  • March 30, 2009, 7:13 a.m. CST

    We have Australians in The Zone

    by Fievel

    zone.aintitcool.com/index.php

  • March 30, 2009, 7:49 a.m. CST

    Mary & Max sounds great

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    Fantastic voice talent as well, so count me in :)

  • March 30, 2009, 8:44 a.m. CST

    Aw damn....

    by Ray Gamma

    I just scanned the title of this article and saw "Downunder" and "Max" and put two and two together and got five. </P> <P> Don't get my hopes up for a new Mad Max film like that.

  • March 30, 2009, 8:54 a.m. CST

    Curtis Is A Hack

    by Rebeck2

    I can't stand most of his stuff. But in this case I thought maybe the subject matter had encouraged him to write something more interesting... Well, thanks for disabusing me of that notion.

  • March 30, 2009, 8:55 a.m. CST

    The Boat That Rocked

    by raw_bean

    If I'd gone to see it I would have had the same expectations as you Lat, so I think you've saved me from disappointment. Love Actually with a 60s setting doesn't grab me enough to spend money on it.

  • March 30, 2009, 9 a.m. CST

    As fro Richard Curtis

    by raw_bean

    It never ceases to amaze me that one of the major minds behind Blackadder is now the king of rom-coms.

  • March 30, 2009, 1:27 p.m. CST

    Ill never understand the hatred that Love Actually gets here

    by Lovecraftfan

    Its a really lovely film. Sacharine but never overwhelming. I can sit down and watch whenever it happens to be on TV. Extremely underrated.

  • March 30, 2009, 11:02 p.m. CST

    Mary and Max sounds good....

    by OutlawsDelejos

    ... but how the hell do you market something like that?

  • March 31, 2009, 4:52 a.m. CST

    What happened to "Lakemba"?

    by white_vader

    Is it the same film as The Combination, and if so, why the name change? Doesn't seem like they gained anything by such a Generic title. That is, if I'm not getting my Sydney Lebanese Australian films mixed up...

  • March 31, 2009, 5:51 a.m. CST

    white_vader - the change of name was really needed

    by Paulseta

  • March 31, 2009, 8:49 p.m. CST

    Paulseta

    by white_vader

    ? - So you're saying yes, it is the same film? And why (keep in mind I haven't seen it yet) is a generic title like The Combination better than Lakemba better? Why exactly was the change needed? Just interested to know. Growing up near Lakemba I can say that using a place-name is quite appropriate in this respect in view of what emotions and visuals it brings up. However that probably limits it to Sydneysiders who know the place I agree. My guess is that the new title refers to the relationship between a Lebo and an Anglo and also the combination of factors that inform all the characters' actions and that come together for the resolution. I'm just guessing though. I really should go watch it - although violence at the screenings seems to imply people aren't paying any attention to the film at all...