Comics

AICN-Downunder: ASTRO BOY, IMAGINARIUM OF DR P, THE INVENTION OF LYING, and Leone!

Published at: Oct. 16, 2009, 10:19 a.m. CST by merrick

Nothing is permanent. Not even death.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

A lot of people seem to feel that language isn't so much evolving as it is degrading. Constant spelling errors, poor grammar, and a basic inability to know what words mean can be incredibly frustrating. It can also, on occasion be very amusing.

The Enthusiast recently did a piece on the ads for STONE BROS., an Australian stoner comedy. The ad quotes a Variety review that calls the film "Fitfully funny!". On first glance, I can understand why someone would think that translated to "fits of laughter", but I am a bit surprised that it went through all the presumed levels of approval without anyone pointing out, as The Enthusiast notes, that "fitfully funny" means "intermittently funny". "Sporadically funny". "Irregularly funny". Not really the sort of opinion you want to be advertising.

Errors such as this can be very funny (not fitfully so), until, of course, it comes back to bite you. The problem with being someone who bemoans a lack of language skills means that your own errors are all the worse for their additional irony content. It doesn't matter how much re-reading and re-drafting you do, you can put money on several mistakes slipping through. I write this knowing that the below column likely contains several errors I'll never notice regardless of how many times I go over it.

I don't have one as unintentionally antithetical as "fitfully funny", but earlier this year one of my reviews gave birth to a pull quote that appeared in a lot of ads. It was my review of BALIBO that did it. I'd called the film "unmissable", and that sure sounded good to the producers, who slapped the quote on a bunch of ads. What they, like I, had failed to realise was that "unmissable" did not mean the film shouldn't be missed, but rather that it couldn't be missed. Semantics? Perhaps. But if everybody took the quote literally, nobody would have gone to see the film, as "unmissable" assures them that, no matter what they do, they'll end up seeing it. It can't be missed.

The error was annoying when I first noticed it, and I wasn't able to forget it. For weeks following, every time I'd head to an online newspaper, the BALIBO ad would flash up beside the article I was reading, and my misused word would glare back at me, taunting me. The ad itself, I was beginning to think, was itself unmissable.

Anyway, enough of that! Below, you'll find reviews for a bunch of films I found to be, collectively, fitfully enjoyable, all of which certainly contain a significant number of spelling errors. Enjyo!

NEWS

DVD special features? Passe! Production vlogs? How 20th Century! The future is in live streaming set visits, and on November 4, you'll get to see one. In what the filmmakers believe is a world first (and I've certainly not heard it done before), THE REEF will stream its shoot live over the internet from AEST 8:30am until 2pm. THE REEF is a giant shark movie from Andrew Traucki, who made the excellent giant croc film BLACK WATER, and REEF is one of my most anticipated films of 2010. I'll try to post something up the day before to remind you all, but make a note of it in your diary anyway. The streaming will take place on the film's website.

"I think it's going to be as big as GALLIPOLI was twenty-five years ago," producer Bill Leimbach said to Inside Film. Strong words. I like to think that you wouldn't say that unless you actually had the product to back it up, and so I'm optimistically looking forward to BENEATH HILL 60, which just wrapped production in Townsville. Jeremy Sims, the actor-turned director whose first film was 2006's LAST TRAIN TO FREO, helmed the World War One epic that features Jacqueline McKenzie, Aden Young, Brendan Cowell, and Gyton Grantley. The film will be released in Australia on April 22, just before Anzac Day.

SUMMER CODA (formerly WHEN SHE GETS THERE) was a runner-up in "Project Greenlight Australia", and is now heading into production on November 9. Writer/director Richard Gray's romantic drama is set in Mildura (one of my favourite places in Australia), with some overseas shooting in Reno, Nevada. The impressive cast includes Rachael Taylor (TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN), Nathan Phillips (BALIBO), Alex Dimitriades (HEAD ON), Angus Sampson (KOKODA), Susie Porter (LITTLE FISH), Cassandra Magrath (WOLF CREEK), Josh Lawson ($QUID: THE MOVIE), Andy McPhee (DECEMBER BOYS), and Jackie Weaver (THREE BLIND MICE). The film will be released in 2010.

I've been on a bit of a Kafka streak recently, reading quite a lot of his short stories ("In the Penal Colony" is probably my favourite thing he's written), as well as catching up on the classics. Last year I read "The Trial" which, to state the bleeding obvious, is brilliant. A New Zealand-based filmmaker, Shaun Garea, is planning to adapt the novel into a film entitled A DREAM OF DARK COLOURS, and is currently shooting scenes in order to shore up interest. The first teaser is simply text on screen with an accompanying viola, but seems to capture the mood of the schizophrenic novel perfectly. Hope this gets up and running, 'cos this is one I'd love to see.

If you're reading this column, I assume you have excellent taste, and based on that assumption, I'll furthur assume that you'll be planning to see [REC]2, the reportedly-terrific follow-up to 2008's best horror film, [REC]. There is, however, a problem: Vendetta Films has practically no money to spend to promote the film in New Zealand. Ant Timpson, New Zealand film promoter extraordinaire, was contacted, and a plan was devised. Much of the tiny budget put aside to promote the film ($5000) would instead be awarded as a prize to whomever can create the most buzz for the film, which opens in NZ on November 13. Oh, wait, does this mention count? A lot of people read AICN, you know. Or, instead, you could check out this video from Reynald Castaneda and his friends, a short film set in the world of [REC]. It's kinda corny and kinda awesome at the same time. Good luck, fellas! (For details on the comp, go here for details.)

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

Inside Film Awards

SAMSON AND DELILAH has achieved the most number of nominations this year at the IF Awards, with eight in total. In a close second was BALIBO with seven, and MARY AND MAX with four. (This works for me, as these are my three favourite Aussie films of 2009 thus far.) Best Feature Film is a three-way battle between SAMSON AND DELILAH, BALIBO and CEDAR BOYS. The winners will be announced at a ceremony on November 18 at Sydney's Luna Park.

Screamfest Horror Film Festival

Aussie horror film DAMNED BY DAWN will have its US premiere on October 19 at 7pm, as part of Screamfest. Head along to Grauman Mann's Chinese Theatre to catch the flick, California readers!

2009 DigiSPAA Feature Film Competition

Four shorts are competing in the DigiSPAA category this year: BRAILLE, FAMILY DEMONS, GIRL CLOCK and MISSING WATER. The winning film will be screened on the Movie Extra channel, receive thousands of dollars in post-production, thousands of dollars in unmarked bills, and free registration to CineMart in Rotterdam. I redundantly wish all four films the best of luck!

THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO

I'll confess, I feared the worst when the producers of South Australian film THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO announced they'd be releasing their film without a distributor. But, against all odds, they seem to be doing really well, and every week there's more news of the film heading to more cinemas. To see if it's playing near you, click here and tell me what you thought of it!

BOX OFFICE

I'm kind-of shocked that WHIP IT! -- which, despite a lot of flaws, I enjoyed -- didn't crack the top five, but glad that MAO'S LAST DANCER is doing so well (even if it's becoming clear that my enjoyment of it puts me in the critical minority). This is what you be watchin':

1. COUPLES RETREAT
2. UP
3. MAO'S LAST DANCER
4. JULIE AND JULIA
5. G-FORCE

RELEASED THESE PAST THREE WEEKS

Nicolas Cage proves he loves crazy wigs even in CGI form, Burt Reynolds plays King Lear, Steven Soderbergh makes a film based on a popular t-shirt, even the appearance of the great Peter Serafinowicz can't make me see this film, Peter Morgan and Tom Hooper kick a home run, the winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar translates well, murderporn enters a new dimension, the order of the names in this title plays havoc with my obsessive-compulsive alphabetisation obsession, French workers plot bloody murder, the battle against communism is fought on the ballet stage, a brilliant documentary (save for the first horrible minute) gets a limited cinema run before DVD, Duncan Jones reminds us what proper science fiction looks like, Woody Allen reminds us he's awesome, and Drew Barrymore makes a decent hash of direction.

ASTRO BOY
A BUNCH OF AMATEURS
CHE
COUPLE'S RETREAT
THE DAMNED UNITED
DEPARTURES
THE FINAL DESTINATION 3D
JULIE AND JULIA
LOUISE-MICHEL
MAO'S LAST DANCER
MONTY PYTHON: ALMOST THE TRUTH
MOON
WHATEVER WORKS
WHIP IT!

REVIEWS

THE DAMNED UNITED

Australian/NZ release: October 15

They may not be marquee names, but the cast list of THE DAMNED UNITED had me sold before I even RSVPed to the media screening. Michael Sheen? Check. Timothy Spall? Check. Jim Broadbent? Check. Colm Meaney? Check. Five stars.

But, for the sake of tradition, I decided to go and see the film before reviewing. I can be old fashioned like that. The film is based on the book "The Damned Utd" by David Pearce, and tells the story of Brian Clough, an English soccer coach circa the 60s/70s.

This film actually feels like the English equivalent of CHE -- and, I should warn you, to illustrate this point, mild spoilers for both that film and this one will occur in this paragraph (but not any subsequent). The first half of Steven Soderbergh's CHE, THE ARGENTINE, told the story of Che Gueverra's successful Cuban revolution. The second half, GUERILLA, told the story of his unsuccessful Bolivian revolution. The story of Brian Clough, as told in this film, can be divided into two halves: his successful coaching of Derby and his unsuccessful coaching of Leeds. Instead of telling them in chronological order, screenwriter Peter Morgan follows the structure of the book, tells them concurrently -- and the story is all the better for it.

Peter Morgan is surely the most interesting and reliable writer working today. THE QUEEN was infinitely better than it really should have been, and FROST/NIXON was, for my money, the best narrative film of last year. THE DAMNED UNITED is right up there in the pantheon, telling a fascinating story with verve and, most importantly, character.

He also knows what the audience wants, what it needs, and how to subvert them both. This is not a film for soccer fans. Well, it's not exclusively for soccer fans. (Anyone who loves soccer and loves good cinema is going to think Christmas has come early when they see this. Can't wait for Nick Hornby's review...) If you've never watched a game in your life and couldn't give a toss about the game, it won't matter one iota. In fact, I find it odd when people doubt whether they'll see it or not because they don't know anything about soccer. You don't hear people saying "Well, I don't know much about Chinese ballet dancers, so I'll probably give MAO'S LAST DANCER a miss" or "South-East Asian politics doesn't interest me, therefore I probably won't watch BALIBO". For some reason, it's usually only sports movies that make people assume that the narrative will be replaced with a detailed dissection of rules and statistics. If you're someone who thinks that, fear not. THE DAMNED UNITED is a love story. It's a love story between Sheen's Manager and Timothy Spall's Assistant Manager. And Morgan plays it so on-the-nose, I wanted to applaud before the thing was done. Given how many films feel inclined to shoe-horn in The Love Interest out of duty, it's nice to see that subverted in favour of a sub-plot about platonic love.

It's not perfect, though. The problems, for me at least, stem largely from the fact that the story is essentially a concoction by author David Pearce. Pearce wrote the "Red Riding" books, which were recently made into the RED RIDING trilogy ( which I reviewed here ). The events in those books are almost entirely made up, which is problematic for two reasons: the first is that a retelling of recent, actual events should strive to be as accurate as possible. The second is that if you're going to throw that rule out the window, you may as well make something more interesting than the events Pearce concocted. Discovering the wild, unabashed liberties Pearce has taken with the lives of real people puts a real stain on it for me. Consequently, THE DAMNED UNITED went from being one of my favourite films of the year, to something I feel a bit dirty for loving so much. It's a weird reaction, I know, and perhaps I'm the only one who will feel this way, but to me it's lazy writing.

There's a small yet substantive difference between this and Peter Morgan's THE QUEEN, in which the fictionalised account of Queen Elizabeth's life during the period surrounding Princess Diana's death was generally accepted as being invented. Rather than focus on a recounting of facts to fill a narrative, the film was more a study of what the elevated fishbowl of royal life might be like. It was poetic. DAMNED UNITED is some of Morgan's best work, but I feel it's misdirected.

This must appear to be a bit of a bipolar review: I began praising it, ended by nearly damning it. But such a reaction does reflect my feelings on it. When I walked out of the film, I felt like i'd seen something truly wonderful. Now, upon reflection and research, that reaction is significantly dulled.

Again, it might just be me, but changing the character and team names and acknowledging this work as being fiction would have made it all the better in my eyes. Make of that what you will.

THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR PARNASSUS

Australian release: October 29

New Zealand release: November 5

The sort of unencumbered, untangled, straightforward exposition that you see in soap operas and bad dramas rings so false because people don't talk like that. Few people tell you how they're feeling outright, and when they do, they're usually saying something else. To really know someone, you have to pay attention, because they're going to tell you about themselves in code. With subterfuge. Behind smoke and mirrors.

During the beginning of Jim Jarmusch's LIMITS OF CONTROL, when my mind was buzzing with excitement, trying to figure out what the overall picture of the film was, I realised I was looking in the wrong place. As I was searching for a plot or a narrative ascention, a voice inside my head said, "Shh, he's trying to tell you something important. Shut up and listen." Jarmusch was telling me, telling us, behind the veil of his perfectly-structured African lead with his two espressos and immaculate suits and stoic demeanour, was what it was like to be him. To be an artist.

Listen closely to IMAGINARIUM, because Gilliam is telling you the same thing.

It probably sounds like I'm trying to ascribe meaning to dour, motionless pictures simply because they're made by my favourite directors, but I'm not so beholden to them that I need them to succeed above all else. IMAGINARIUM did bother me a little for the start of its running time, because it was not the movie I was expecting. It's not the movie the trailer sells, either; the fun, fantastical world of BARON MUNCHAUSEN is not what this is. My mild perturbance was interrupted: a line from Tom Waits, a piece of dialogue from Christopher Plummer, a few words from Heath Ledger, and suddenly I realised this film was more than just a collection of set pieces.

I won't pretend I didn't know that going in. Gilliam's films are, almost without exception, layered and complex, and tell the same story in many different ways on many different levels. I was expecting nothing less from IMAGINARIUM, so it's not like it caught me completely by surprise. But I didn't know what to look for until I saw it.

The film's story follows a man who has made a pact with the Devil in order to gain immortality. He's given away too much and he knows it, yet he cannot resist the wager every time the Devil offers a new one up. The Devil, too, is much more than he seems, and just how Heath Ledger's character fits into it all remains a mystery for most of the running time. It's a deceptively beautiful film, and, coming out, I almost decided not to review it. It's going to be several more viewings until I fully understand the film's intent, and even there my use of the word "fully" is used in a hopeful, but probably not accurate, way. But to not review it would be to betray my part in the process -- insignificant as it is in the scheme of things -- and this is a film that demands the discussion.

Here, every character, from Andrew Garfield's roguish performer to Verne Troyer's wise observer to Lily Cole's seductive ingenue, represents Gilliam. And if you don't think he did this on purpose, compare a still of the first character we properly see (the drunken lout falling out of the pub) next to a picture of a young Terry Gilliam. It's as deliberate a casting as was the juxstaposition of David Hyde Pierce and Christian Clemenson in THE FISHER KING.

It's a film that will have a hard time belonging. From its opening scenes in a disturbingly-recognisable and authentic real world setting, we feel that we're seeing the wrong thing. Christopher Plummer's Dr Parnassus should be sitting atop a large, impossible mountain. His Imaginarium roadshow should be presented at the court of a non-specific European kingdom. Terry Gilliam's works should exist in a world that is, at most, only vaguely like our own. Every part of IMAGINARIUM that takes place in our world feels wrong, and that's completely deliberate. This is what the real world is like, and this is what artists like Dr Parnassus must endure.

It's funny, fantastical, wondrous, entertaining, colourful, and brilliant -- but not all the time. It's got so much more to do than that.

ASTRO BOY

Australian release: October 15

New Zealand release: January 21

I've been pretty good at avoiding that whole Saturday Morning Cartoon Nostalgia thing. I didn't even know TRANSFORMERS had been a cartoon until everyone started talking about how they grew up on it. ASTRO BOY was, on the other hand, one I grew up watching, except I don't remember anything about it other than the fact that I saw it. So on that level, I'm an easy fan to please: just retain the title and I'll be happy.

Or not.

If you want a simple comparison, it's better than ROBOTS, not as good as MEET THE ROBINSONS. It's trying to be about a dozen different films at once, sometimes a semi-serious look at robotics and politics and father-son relations, at other times a catchphrase-heavy carbon copy of every other cartoon about scrappy kids being scrappy.

Its humour is frequently mediocre, with occasional lapses into genuine funniness. (Hey, that would have been an ideal place to say "fitfully funny"!) I was going to say that the film is boring, but it's not, really. It keeps the pace going well, and even if it doesn't know what sort of film it wants to be, it never really dips too far.

The film's biggest problem is that it never really sells the central concept. If you don't want to know, look away now. Nicolas Cage -- who, as I said earlier in the column, has a ridiculous wig despite being only a voice to a CGI character -- recreates his son in robot form after his actual son is killed. Pleasant stuff for a kid's film, isn't it? The problem comes when Cage laments that Robot Son isn't enough like Real Son (because he made some paper aeroplanes), and decides he wants to get rid of him. First question: if you wanted him to be just like your Real Son, why did you put rockets in his feet and canons in his arms and machine guns in his rear end? And don't give me the argument that I shouldn't expect so much from a kid's film. I should and I do.

You could do worse than ASTRO BOY, but you could also do a whole lot better. I wouldn't bother.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

Australian release: November 22 (limited run at The Astor in Melbourne)

To my shame, I always forget how extraordinary Sergio Leone is unless I'm actually watching one of his films. Thanks to a restored 35mm Panavision print of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, I've been reminded again this week. And it was glorious.

If the cast list of Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson doesn't get you excited, then check out the "Story By" credit: Sergio Leone, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci. When that title came up, I started doing a little jig in my seat. (Jig = dance, to avoid potential disgust.) This was, indeed, my first time seeing OUATITW, and I'm glad I waited.

I was about to here discuss Leone's strengths as a director, but soon realised it was simply a checklist of all the things a director does. The sound design is amazing. The way he moves the camera is ahead of its time. The way characters are explored not through dialogue but through actions is, in itself, a masterclass on How You're Supposed To Do It.

Like the woefully-underrated DUCK, YOU SUCKER, OATITW isn't just an exercise in dust and gun wounds. It's filled with humour. The humour comes not from the comic sidekick or the self-conscious monotony-relief scene, but from the characters. Every character is funny, frightening, complicated. Nothing goes the way you expect it to.

It's a good time to release WEST. The influence it had on INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is obvious: long, thoughtful, interesting, tension-filled scenes that work because of, not despite, their length. But, unlike BASTERDS, Leone's WEST ties them all into a complete package that works as a whole, not just as a collection of scenes.

Really, if you love cinema, you have no excuse not to go see ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Essential.

THE INVENTION OF LYING

Australian/NZ release: November 26

I'm a pretty big fan of Ricky Gervais. "The Office" and "Extras" are both, I believe, keystones in the evolution of comedy. Sure, they owe a tremendous amount to what came before them, but then so does all great new work. "The Office", in particular, took us all by storm not just because it was funny, but because it was real. The "real" moments weren't separate from the comedy, not just dramatic interludes from the wacky stars; it was all integrated. The humour worked because the world was believable, and it was populated by that most ubiquitous, recognisable of people: the sad clown.

THE INVENTION OF LYING is anything but real. It manages to avoid any real human emotion, and whilst that would be forgivable if it were replaced with something more spectacular, more high concept, it's not. The idea of a world where people cannot lie is an intriguing one, yet it's used to absolutely minimum effect here. "Telling the truth", in the world of INVENTION, somehow equates to "always saying what's on your mind and insulting people all the time". When I first heard the concept for the film, I remember thinking they'd have to work very hard to sell that concept to an audience. I still think that, and I really wish they had. I'm prepared to make a pretty big leap to meet a film halfway, but the film has to do some of the leg work as well.

The setup is essentially presented as would be done in a sitcom. The conceit of the film is simply there so Jennifer Garner can talk about how ugly Ricky Gervais is, and he can sit there looking off to the side muttering "Yeah, all right, nice, thank you". Without proper context, his schtick doesn't work. It's a schtick I normally enjoy, mind you, but it's getting to the point where it's just too repetitive, too samey. Gervais's character is an outsider in this world he supposedly grew up in, and is little more than a conduit for the audience so we can laugh at how oh so brazen everyone is.

The biggest problem is that the world as presented simply wouldn't function. I don't believe this is a functioning society at all. We're not shown anything to sell us on that. Instead, we're shown our society with a few conceits pasted over the top. The conceits, incidentally, don't hold much water either. When Rob Lowe calls Ricky Gervais a "douche", or Tina Fey calls him a "faggot", they're employing metaphor, which is, in essence, a form of lying. This is within the first ten minutes or so. The world they've put practically no effort into setting up comes tumbling down before the first act is over.

This isn't even the most disappointing thing about the film. No, the most disappointing thing is the love story between Gervais and Garner, a cliché so worn, I'm struggling to even write about it. The heavy-handed message of "It's not what you look like, it's what's inside that counts" is slathered on with a trowel, and unwittingly undercut in the same breath. See, that look like/what's inside message only counts for Gervais. Garner's character is horrible. She's judgmental, mean-spirited, not very intelligent, and spends most of her time being horrible to Gervais and random strangers. Why on Earth does Gervais love her? There's a throwaway line about him having a crush on her for years, and that apparently covers it. It's a paper-thin romance, lazily sold to the audience on the basis that This Is What Romantic Comedies Are Like, So Just Go With It.

There is one saving grace in the film, and that's when Gervais invents religion. It's a sequence filled with potential, and the lampooning of religion and its followers is the most interesting thing about it. I suspect the film would have been much better if it had been like this all the way through. Or, instead, if it had followed through on its high concept SF idea and shown us what consequences a world without lying would actually have. Or, instead, if they hadn't run away from the idea that he could use his power to get whatever he wants and really just be a bastard about it. Or, instead, if they'd stayed true to their central message and made Garner's character unattractive. Or, instead, if it had made the central romance more believable, more interesting, more real.

"The Office" and "Extras" worked so well because they felt real. There was something in there, particularly with "The Office", that spoke to everybody's experiences, which is why it was such a runaway success. Gervais and Stephen Merchant targeted pandering films and television shows in "Extras", and were so cutting, they even attacked -- perhaps unfairly -- the audiences who enjoyed them. It's extraordinary that the man partly responsible for that show could turn around and appear in A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, then co-write, co-direct and star in a film like THE INVENTION LYING, where a barrage of unending, distracting celebrity cameos are considered a substitute for the sharply targeted social comment we usually expect from him.

Honestly, don't even bother.

DVD REVIEWS

THE CHASER (October 7, Region 4)

The film:I was booked in to see this at MIFF, but ditched it when I scored an invite to the Closing Night film. Though I didn't mind BRAN NUE DAE, I sort-of wish I'd gone to THE CHASER instead. Watching the DVD, I kept thinking how amazing it would look on the big screen. THE CHASER is the latest example of why we should all move to South Korea for their movies alone. The setup may not be unique, but it's presented so originally that you feel it is: an ex-cop now working as a pimp thinks his girls are all running off on him when, in reality, they're being picked off by a serial killer. (If you're worried about spoilers, don't worry, I think I only spoiled the first four minutes.) All the places you expect a film like this to go are exhausted within half an hour, leaving you wondering exactly what else this film has to offer. Where can it go? Oh, it has places to go. It doesn't keep you guessing (as that popular tagline, now overused into ineffectiveness, might say), but does something better: it keeps you captivated. Easily the best cop/serial killer film of the year.

The extras: There's a moderately interesting pair of mini-documentaries about the making of the film, yet all the talking heads (writer/director, cinematographer, etc) all come across as stilted drones. How do seemingly-boring people create films with such vivid, interesting, engaging characters? There's also a trailer with an American voice over promising that the US remake is coming soon, which is quite funny in itself. If you'll recall my frustration at the spelling and grammar errors in the subtitles for UNE FEMME MARIÉE, you'll be glad to hear that the Korean translator suffers no such problems.

Should you buy it: It's one of those film worth buying sight-unseen. This is the film you show your friends who don't like foreign films in order to show them what fools they've been. Ideally, you'd see it on the big screen first, but failing that, it's an essential purchase.

SAUNA (October 7, Region 4)

The film:A lot of attention has been given to Australian film VAN DIEMEN'S LAND, and I wish it every success, but I just couldn't find an in. It kept me at arm's length for its entire running time, and even the beautiful cinematography and marvelous production values couldn't sway me. SAUNA had the same effect. Beautiful to look at, sure, and it's to be lauded for its intent, but really... nup. Did nothing for me. I spent all of my time trying to enjoy it rather than actually enjoying it, and though there's nothing specifically wrong with it, I'm not sure I'd really recommend it. It's got a few really great scares, and anything set in 1500s Scandanavia immediately piques my interest, but this metaphysical-horror-film-based-on-apparently-true-events doesn't really deliver the punch I wanted it to.

The extras: I actually enjoyed the Making Of doco more than the film, so there's that to recommend. Also, a trailer.

Should you buy it:I wouldn't be shocked if it turned out that a whole lot of people really liked it (I just noticed a quote on the back that reads: "I can't recommend SAUNA enough." -- Ain't It Cool News), but based on my own reaction, I'd say no. If anything, give it a rent.

NEXT WEEK

- In a sort-of lame-ish revenge, England will change the title of the upcoming Nicolas Cage film to THE PHILOSPHER'S APPRENTICE

- Michael Sheen set to star in Peter Morgan's THE TWILIGHT SAGA: DOWNING STREET, where he will play a vampirical Tony Blair in what he refers to as "a technical departure from stuff I've done before"

- A Hitchcockian angle is promised for the upcoming "Friends" reunion special, where they're all strangled with neckties in FRIENDZY

Peace out,

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 16, 2009, 10:46 a.m. CST

    Last!

    by Snookeroo

    Me am Bizarro.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 10:57 a.m. CST

    Oh please! You're going to try and tell the

    by V'Shael

    country that invents words like "Winningest" and can't spell "aluminium" about English?

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 11:01 a.m. CST

    "The way characters are explored not through dialogue..."

    by DC Films

    "...but through actions." <p>Nail on the head.<p>Leone's still the greatest.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 11:10 a.m. CST

    Your complaints about Astro Boy the movie...

    by NinjaRap

    ...are in fact complaints about the ENTIRE ASTRO BOY MYTHOLOGY. I just want you to know that. It's always been that Dr. Tenma created Astro to look like Tobio and then rejected him, and yes, for some reason also gave him all these fucked-up weapons and powers that didn't match up with his original intent. The franchise has always blended with the juvenile with some serious emotional shit. It was the '03 version that most heavily focused on robot/human relations, but still retained the goofiness. So what I'm hearing is... sounds like they made a pretty good mashup of the various versions, and stayed true to the source material.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 1:18 p.m. CST

    Why does everyone pick on Invention of Lying so much?

    by Dreamwriter

    Is it the perfect movie, of course not. But if you turn your brain off, it's pretty funny and entertaining.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 1:55 p.m. CST

    DUCK, YOU SUCKER, OATITW was a mess

    by ominus

    it was a well done movie,but unfortunately it was chocked by the plethora of things it tried to tell at once.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:02 p.m. CST

    Latauro Responds

    by Latauro

    NinjaRap: That's fair enough. But as I pointed out, I was reviewing it as someone unfamiliar with the source material, and from that perspective it made little sense. In particular, the motives of Nic Cage's character are truly bizarre, and sort-of stops the film from making much sense. <BR> <BR> Dreamwriter: Personally, I've never agreed with the idea that you should have to turn your brain off for any film, but that's just me.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 6:14 p.m. CST

    V'Shael

    by Punxsutawney_Phil

    Someone want to tell V'Shael that Latauro is Australian not American and we spell aluminium just fine. We also didn't invent the word winningest. And Dreamwriter, I am so sick of people suggesting I didn't enjoy a film because I am not stupid enough. I use the brain to watch the film. If it picks up plot holes, bad dialogue and lazy characterisation that is not my fault.

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 7:08 p.m. CST

    I'm still horrified In the Loop's not coming out until January

    by The Wrong Guy

    Ridiculous I say. Ri-effing-diculous. April, that movie was released in the U.K. Goddamn April... But apparently, we're getting Gervais' latest piss-poor cinematic effort a lot sooner than that. Bah, humbug. Go CATS, anyway. Haven't been on here since then. That was an awesome Grand Final. Just saying...

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 7:57 p.m. CST

    Because you demanded it!

    by Wonder Man

    Loved the column as always, sir. However... a three minor corrections: 1) I'm not sure the DIGISPAA Feature Film Comp winners were four "shorts"... 2) David Peace wrote DAMNED/RIDING, not David Pearce (easy mistake, though)... 3) You totally should've seen THE CHASER instead of BRAN NUE DAE!! Huzzah!!! (Sad about LYING, though. The thing about using metaphor is interesting, because I read an on-set article where Gervais pulled Rob Lowe up after a take for improvising something similar. Clearly got sloppy at some point thereafter... in the editing room, perhaps?)

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 8:54 p.m. CST

    Kafka film

    by Captain_Estrata

    Hey if anyone is interested we have a new teaser with footage here: http://tinyurl.com/ykkjlf8 and our website adreamofdarkcolours.com will be up for the 20th. Cheers :-)

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 9:36 p.m. CST

    Latauro Responds II

    by Latauro

    Wonder Man: I wrote the DigiSPAA bit last, very late at night, and remember thinking that "short" and "feature" looked odd next to one another -- but for some reason my addled brain couldn't figure out why!

  • Oct. 16, 2009, 11:12 p.m. CST

    Sounds like the Astro Boy film is like the manga

    by FeralAngel

    In the manga, Dr. Tenma built a robot to replace his dead son - then turned against it when it couldn't act fully human. And yes, he built in the rockets and the machine guns, etc. So the film sounds like it's merely adhering to the original story - which is pretty damn refreshing in my view (especially after suffering through the unidentifiable mess that was the last Harry Potter film). Still can't wait to see this. I care more about this than the Princess and the Frog film. Go go GO Astro Boy!

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 12:39 a.m. CST

    Astro boy - Tenma's rejection would be

    by white_vader

    where it goes from being Pinocchio to Frankenstein, which are the two obvious sources. But this one does it pretty badly. The writing is so damn lazy and clichéd it amplifies the incongruity. I really wanted to like the flick, but this is a good one to put beside, say, Coraline - every time you think you're going to get a hackneyed line that patronises kids AND adults in Coraline, you don't. Every time you think they'll couch things like death in a more "kid-friendly" (when we all know kids worry about these things too) way, they don't. Astro boy, on the other hand ticks off all the clichés one by one. Such a shame. And if a moron like me knows how easily just the dialogue could have been fixed, you're in big trouble... <p> O a separate but related point, although I liked a lot of the designs being fairly cartoony and true to the manga/animé, I just don't understand why they wussed out on Astro. It had bothered me in the railers, but I thought best wait and see for sure. But no, the robots are cartoony. More importantly, the human characters aside from the ugly kids and 'Bratz' looking girl, were cartoony and close to the earlier versions. But they toned down Astro, squaring things off and making the eyes smaller (for the main character we're supposed to sympathise with!). It's not for the internal logic of making him initially indistiguishable from the human boy, as previously mentioned those characters are stylised too (and boy is that part of the story hackneyed, with only one decent joke to be seen). And then there's the animation having no connection to the voice performances, kids who act like kidults and talk in Oprah/therapyspeak, non-development of the surface world, idiotic resolution for certain characters and on and on. <p> Feral Angel, the big sin is that although it SEEMS like they're being true to the source, they're actually only paying the elements lip service. They've got the content, but not the execution. Generally though the design and look are nice, as they were with the execrable Turtles movie they did beforehand. At least they're slowly improving. Can they do another 5 films before Gatchaman please?

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 1:49 a.m. CST

    Once Upon a Time in the West

    by Player01

    Just saw this for the first time a month ago. UNBELIEVABLY GOOD FILM MAKING! I couldn't believe what I was watching. The only thing that spoiled it was seeing where all these derivative movies, framing, shots and set pieces came from. Makes me want to see Quick and the Dead again just to see how much Raimi stole.

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 1:50 a.m. CST

    Don't get me wrong

    by Player01

    Quick and the Dead was fun, but after seeing OUATITW I realised the good bits weren't all Raimi.

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 9:20 a.m. CST

    Beautiful Kate is my fav Aus movie of the year

    by couP

    And did you write up a Departures review?

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 6:42 p.m. CST

    couP

    by Latauro

    Was booked in to screenings for both Beautiful Kate and Departures, and was forced to miss both. Hoping to amend this by the end of the year, they look pretty damned good.

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 7:57 p.m. CST

    Gervais

    by CJW

    When are people going to start realising that it's Stephen Merchant who is the real talent. Hence the reason for anything Gervais does on his own never coming close to the stuff they create together. The films are like his stand up, average.

  • Oct. 17, 2009, 9:42 p.m. CST

    Ah ok, looking fwd to see what you think of 'em!

    by couP

  • Oct. 18, 2009, 3:18 a.m. CST

    Astro Boy and Once Upon a Time in the West

    by Uzala

    Regarding "Astro Boy," I'm pretty sure that in the original story Tenma was losing his mind when he decided to build the robot replacement for his dead son. I also think it was after Atom (or Astro, or whatever) was adopted by Ochanomizu that he was given the ability to fly and shoot bullets out of his ass(!?). But that was in the original story, I don't know how this movie does it. Based on what I've seen and heard about the film, it looks like it's shaping up to be yet another case of how movies get it wrong. Why should I (or anyone) see this new Astro Boy movie, when Naoki Urasawa's "Pluto" exists? Maybe I'm wrong and this movie will be wonderful, but if it is, the advertising is doing a great job of hiding that from me, and your review naturally does nothing to increase what scant enthusiasm I have. I couldn't agree with you more about "Once Upon a Time in the West." This is exactly what Hollywood blockbusters should be aspiring to and they often (if not always) fall well below the mark. What depresses me even more is how so few people seem to care. It has the basic elements that can be found within a fair number of blockbusters and/or action movies in general, specifically an alpha male/superman type out for revenge while trying to protect a beautiful woman. The difference here, is that it doesn't go out of its way to be the dumbest, most artistically bland, and most overly expositional shit ever committed to film. When the hell is this going to be released on Blu-ray?

  • Oct. 18, 2009, 4:01 a.m. CST

    Uzala, let them take their sweet time with OUATITW Blu

    by white_vader

    - they did such a lousy job with the Good, Bad & the Ugly transfer I'd rather they just take their bloody time and do a decent job. I never owned it on any format and it was cheap so I guess I didn't really lose out, but the picture is pretty pathetic compared to some of the other Blu-ray/HD transfers that are out there for flicks from the same period/same sort of film stocks. The DNR is atrocious. <p> Although apparently there is a separate Italian transfer (strange that alternative transfers are still done when there's no framerate or resolution difference and yes it's more about corporate shenanigans but anyway) that's just great. And for Fistful of Dollars too. Just hard to find/import or something. Apparently the new HD version of Ran (not Criterion because of rights issues) looks like crap too. Goddammit. <p> And I haven't heard about this "Pluto" - what's the deal?

  • Oct. 18, 2009, 5:42 a.m. CST

    Re: Uzala, let them take their sweet time with OUATITW Blu

    by Uzala

    Good point about the transfer. Yes, I'd gladly be patient if I thought OUATITW was going to get a great Blu-ray treatment. My concern is that I haven't heard anything about it ever being released on Blu. There's also the fact that I'll often find the DVD for sale for like six bucks in the bargain bin of a number of stores, so this suggests to me that it's not selling well and may never be released in HD. Hopefully I'm wrong. It's unfortunate to hear about "Ran." I didn't even know there was a Blu-ray until you mentioned it. I hope someone (like Criterion) will be able to put out a better version soon. "Pluto," or by its full title "Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka" is a manga by Naoki Urasawa. It's a retelling of the old Astro Boy story "The Greatest Robot on Earth." Here's a review: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/39109#pluto. It's been getting high praise in just about every review I've encountered. I've read the first three volumes myself, and I feel the praise is justified.

  • Oct. 18, 2009, 11 a.m. CST

    "Pluto" is okay, but I still prefer the original manga

    by FeralAngel

    As for Astro's origins, there's a reason for confusion - Osamu Tezuka, Astro's creator, kept rewriting and redrawing his work every time it got collected into book form. And yeah he made changes. Bet a lot of artists would do that if they could. As for "Pluto", White Vader, it's a sanctioned retelling by Naoki Urasawa of the original Tezuka story "The World's Strongest Robot". It's been described as a "Blade Runner" version of Astro Boy, and I think that's a pretty accurate assessment. For my part, I think "Pluto" is okay, but I still prefer the original manga. There's a retro-earnestness there I find extremely refreshing and entertaining. And despite the caveats posted here by those who have viewed the movie, I'm still stoked to see "Astro Boy". Looks like fun, and I'm interested to see exactly where it works and where it doesn't.

  • Oct. 18, 2009, 11:08 p.m. CST

    Thanks guys for the Pluto info, and Uzala

    by white_vader

    Check this out: <p> http://tinyurl.com/yz7fh7n <p> The difference between the American and Italian versions is outrageous. The U.S. One looks more like a regular upscaled DVD than a BD! Unfortunately no English dub on the Italian from what I understand (not sure about English subs).

  • Oct. 19, 2009, 3:55 a.m. CST

    You're Welcome

    by Uzala

    It's too bad about "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." I'm hoping we see a big Blu box set similar to the DVD collection that contained the "Dollars" trilogy and "Duck, You Sucker." Maybe in time.

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