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AICN-Downunder: PRINCE OF PERSIA, GREENBERG, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, And Douglas Sirk

I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that anymore.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

I'm sure that, like me, you wish you were at Cannes. Unless you are reading this from Cannes, in which case I'm sure you have more exciting things you could be doing. If I were at Cannes, I'd be doing everything I could to attend the premieres of the new Woody Allen, Mike Leigh and Jean-Luc Godard films, let alone trying to get in to see the closing night film THE TREE. Doing those things would, I'm sure, be preferable to the experiences of Australian David Gould, who has been blogging about it over at Encore. It's definitely worth checking out, and it echoes the other horror stories I've heard about Aussies in Cannes. It's a sad state of affairs, and it's worth being reminded of the lack of support for struggling filmmakers, something that's easy to forget with the recent crop of great Aussie films.

NEWS

Filming has begun on BURNING MAN, the third film from writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky (BETTER THAN SEX with David Wenham and Susie Porter, and GETTIN' SQUARE with Wenham, Sam Worthington and Timothy Spall).The film is about an English chef who runs a restaurant on Sydney's Bondi Beach, and the women who help him pull his life together. It stars Matthew Goode (MATCH POINT, A SINGLE MAN, WATCHMEN), Rachel Griffiths ("Six Feet Under", "Brothers and Sisters"), Essie Davis (GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING, AUSTRALIA), Kerry Fox (SHALLOW GRAVE, BRIGHT STAR), Gia Carides (MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, YEAR ONE), Kate Beahan (THE WICKER MAN, FLIGHTPLAN), and Anthony Hayes (LOOK BOTH WAYS, ANIMAL KINGDOM). Got all that? Good. The film should be out next year, making me hopeful that 2011 could be yet another one to look forward to for Aussie cinema.

Last column, I mentioned production of THE KILLER ELITE was beginning in Melbourne. Only days later, a pretty impressive role-call of actors were been added to the film: the cast now reads Clive Owen, Jason Statham, Ben Mendelsohn, Dominic Purcell, Aden Young, Yvonne Strahovski and... Robert de Niro. That's right. De Niro. Denizens of Melbourne, keep your eyes open. And make sure you have one of his famous lines ready to quote back at him -- I hear he loves that.

If you've been watching the Box Office bit of AICN-Downunder for last few columns -- and, let's face it, why wouldn't you? -- you'll have noticed a local film called BOY has been dominating the New Zealand box office. The film is now the highest grossing New Zealand film of all time, taking the mantle from Roger Donaldson's brilliant THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN.The film is written and directed by its star, Taika Waititi, who made the brilliant Oscar-nominated short TWO CARS, ONE NIGHT. BOY will play at both the Sydney Film Festival and the Melbourne International Film Festival, before its general release. If you want to take a look at the trailers, check out the film's website.

The success of THE HORSEMAN has been something of a slow burn. I saw a rough cut back in 2008, and was very impressed; since then, it's played at various festivals around the world and garnered nothing but praise. Now -- finally! -- it's seeing a local cinema release. Steve Kastrissios's brutal revenge film will open on July 8 at the Chauvel Cinema in Sydney and the Tribal Theatre in Brisbane, with Melbourne and the other states to follow. I cannot wait to see this thing on the big screen where it belongs.

Plenty of trailers make the mistake of being too long, but can a teaser be too short? I say no, and I say so based on this eighteen second trailer for PREDICAMENT, which actually had me sold at the fifteen second mark. The New Zealand film is written and directed by Jason Stutter (DIAGNOSIS: DEATH, TONGAN NINJA), and stars Jermaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords"), Rose McIver (THE LOVELY BONES), Australian comic Heath Franklin, newcomer Hayden Frost, and musician extraordinaire Tim Finn. No word yet on an Australian release, but New Zealand should be getting PREDICAMENT later this year.

After decades upon decades of trying to make it, fifteen year old Australian actor Callan McAuliffe has finally cracked the US. McAuliffe appeared in a lot of Australian TV before the award-winning short film FRANSWA SHARL. He's recently completed the high-profile Australian mini-series "Cloudstreet" as well as playing the lead in Rob Reiner's FLIPPED. Now, he's been signed to appear in I AM NUMBER FOUR, the Steven Spielberg/Michael Bay alien movie, playing Sam, the "best friend" of Alex Pettyfer's titular Number Four.

If you've suffered through the lumbering bore that is the Ridley Scott/Russell Crowe version of ROBIN HOOD, you can't have failed to notice that the film felt like it was pasted together from the most boring scenes of differing ROBIN HOOD scripts. Turns out it was. Check out this article about the clearly self-destructive process that took this from a promising fresh idea to... well, a piece of crap.

AICN-Downunder's Follow Friday: (Drop me a line if there are any Australian or New Zealand films not mentioned here.) Read about the fascinating journeys Anti-podean films take from production through post-production and into release! Click to follow controversial Uighur documentary 10 CONDITIONS OF LOVE, crime epic ANIMAL KINGDOM, science fiction-slash-horror THE DARK LURKING, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, self-described "graphic novel-style bushranger adventure film" MOONLITE , star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant shark movie THE REEF, giant squid movie $QUID, the Charlotte Gainsbourg-starring THE TREE, the very promising THE WAITING CITY, and left-field sequel THE WOG BOY 2. And for those still reading, this here is me.

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

Melbourne International Film Festival

I'll assume you all read my MIFF coverage last year, including the international incident caused by China's anger at the screening of 10 CONDITIONS OF LOVE. China pulled all of its films out of the festival in protest of the documentary about Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer by Melbourne filmmaker Jeff Daniels. Similarly, Ken Loach tried very hard to destroy his own credibility by pulling his own film out because MIFF accepted a (ridiculously) minor financial contribution from the Israeli government. (Not really complaining about Loach: they replaced his film with AWAY WE GO, so I was happy.) But what's notable about these events -- and why they're being brought up now -- is that MIFF's victory in the name of free speech earned it the 2010 Voltaire Award. The Voltaires are given to those who make significant contribution to free speech. The award will be presented in July by Julian Morrow.

63rd Cannes Film Festival

Ariel Kleiman's short DEEPER THAN YESTERDAY, one of the very few Australian films playing at Cannes this year, picked up the Kodak Discovery Award in the Critics Week section.

2010 Swansea Film Festival

Australian indie film CARMILLA HYDE (directed by Dave de Vries) recently picked up the Best International Feature Film award at the Swansea Film Festival.

BOX OFFICE

ROBIN HOOD is number one?!? For crying out loud, it's almost like you people don't make your filmgoing decisions based on my reviews! You'll only encourage them, you know. As always, the linked movie titles take you directly to the AICN-Downunder review of said film. Or possibly porn. I don't vet the links very carefully.

Australia

1. ROBIN HOOD
2. IRON MAN 2
3. LETTERS TO JULIET
4. I LOVE YOU TOO
5. HOT TUB TIME MACHINE
6. DATE NIGHT
7. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
8. WHEN IN ROME
9. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
10. BENEATH HILL 60

New Zealand

1. ROBIN HOOD
2. BOY
3. IRON MAN 2
4. THE BLIND SIDE
5. LETTERS TO JULIET
6. HOME BY CHRISTMAS
7. THE BOOK OF ELI
8. A SINGLE MAN
9. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
10. HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON

RELEASED THIS PAST FORTNIGHT

A heavily-airbrushed poster makes the unfortunate connection between Jennifer Lopez's butt and the words "Back-Up", two soup chefs make a broth and fight over Natalie Portman, every Justin Bartha has a Mélanie Laurent, this documentary will make you a breatharian, this is the most I've ever enjoyed a pro-fascist film, this actually came out three weeks ago but I accidentally left it off the list, this script was much grittier when it was LETTERS TO LUCRECE, FYI I heart Zoe Saldana, Gillian Armstrong races Michael Apted, this script was much grittier when it was LUCRECE, I LOVE YOU, horror remakes have become white noise to me at the this point, after directing the time-jumping IRIS Richard Eyre goes for a Linney-er narrative, Emmanuel Mouret's comedy was a lot grittier when it was called PLEASE PLEASE LUCRECE, Justin Bartha rebounds onto Catherine Zeta-Jones after what I can only assume was a bad romance with Mélanie Laurent in that earlier film, the question "What could be words than that Patrick Bergin ROBIN HOOD?" is finally answered, the Best Foreign Language Film winner may now be judged, if this had said "From the director of DAREDEVIL and GHOST RIDER" I might have seen it, and the collapse of Greece's economy and society becomes only the second worst thing to happen to it this year.

THE BACK-UP PLAN (AUS)
BROTHERS (NZ)
EVERY JACK HAS A JILL (NZ)
FOOD INC (AUS)
HARRY BROWN (AUS)
I LOVE YOU TOO (AUS)
LETTERS TO JULIET (AUS/NZ)
THE LOSERS (NZ)
LOVE, LUST AND LIES (AUS)
NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU (AUS)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (AUS)
THE OTHER MAN (AUS)
PLEASE, PLEASE ME! (NZ)
THE REBOUND (NZ)
ROBIN HOOD (AUS/NZ)
THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES (AUS/NZ)
WHEN IN ROME (NZ)
THE WOG BOY 2: THE KINGS OF MYKONOS (AUS)

REVIEWS

Just in case you missed the review (and the, er, dozen odd links I've already posted in this column) click here to read my review of the disaster that is ROBIN HOOD.

PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME

Australian/New Zealand release: May 27

Jerry Bruckheimer is desperate for another PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise. We all know it. Almost by accident he hit upon a formula that is, unlike most new formulas, easy to identify and repeat. See, when TOY STORY became a huge success, everyone (studios) thought it was because of the CGI instead of the story and character, and so CGI animated films flooded the market. When HARRY POTTER hit, studios assumed that kids liked magic and prophecies and incredibly long titles, and endless POTTER clones clogged cinemas to predictable failure. But with PIRATES it's different: everybody knows what worked and what didn't. A big, fun, period adventure with rich, eye-popping visuals and a Han Solo-esque supporting character everybody wanted to be. Johnny Depp was announced as Tonto nearly two years ago in THE LONE RANGER movie, but they haven't yet found a Lone Ranger. Telling, no?

It's curious that PRINCE OF PERSIA has ignored a key element of this formula and dispensed with the roguish sidekick. See, Jake Gyllenhaal is both the earnest hero and the charming support; it's a confusing choice until Alfred Molina turns up as a version of Sallah and you realise that Gyllenhaal isn't playing Han Solo: he's playing Indiana Jones.

PRINCE OF PERSIA is distinct in that it's the first video game adaptation I've seen and not hated. Usually, being adapted from a video game is a kiss of death, but ever since games started netting as much -- sometimes more -- as movies, they have become a tempting well for Hollywood to dip into.

Gyllenhaal's Prince is a young scrappy orphan fortuitously (and improbably) adopted into royalty, which means he gets to play a prince whilst still playing the underdog. There is, of course, some palace intrigue, and when Gylenhaal is accused of a murder he did not commit, he is forced to go on the run to prove his innocence. This leads to a number of relatively exciting set pieces and some oddball supporting characters. Well, actually just Alfred Molina a few times.

The action scenes feel like an interesting mid-way point between the best action of recent years and the worst. Controversial this may be, but the best action scene I've seen in the past decade was the three-way sword fight in the second PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN. It was such a tremendous payoff, I was happy for the first ninety minutes of the film to be a setup for that scene alone. The other end of the scale is the soulless TRANSFORMERS action, an assault on the eyes and ears that has zero impact, eliciting nothing but irritation. PRINCE sits between those. There's some thought put into the action sequences, and they are enjoyable in a Peter Parker Does Parkour way. But for all the claims of photorealistic CGI, it still feels like an action scene taking place on a hard drive, and it's hard to invest much in it.

In fact, it's impossible to invest anything in the storyline before we get to the bizarre final moments. I cannot spoil anything here, but my first reaction is to find the writers and say "Really? You don't want to have another think about that?". The central message of the story -- and I warn you, I may inadvertently spoil the film for anyone with a mild amount of deductive reasoning -- is that actions do not have consequences. It's a worrying subtext, and, I feel, feeds into the worst parts of our current culture. Video games can be saved, actions can be undone. That this idea can be applied to a narrative may be a neat throwback to the game, but the more it is examined, the more of a concern it is.

It's a disposable but mildly-enjoyable romp, one you forget moments after you leave the cinema, and one you won't feel any desire to revisit in the future. The misguided ending comes close to undoing the goodwill the film has built up, but as that goodwill is a niggling amount, it doesn't matter all that much. See it if you have to, but don't go out of your way.

GREENBERG

Australian release: July 22 // New Zealand release: TBA

My relationship with Noah Baumbach is a tempestuous one. I adore his work on THE LIFE AQUATIC and FANTASTIC MR FOX, really liked his film THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, and loathed with a fiery passion his last film, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. Having such wildly different reactions to his work actually gives me something of a blank slate to work with when I see a new film from him.

GREENBERG, I'll say immediately, is a bit of a halfway point, sitting neatly between MARGOT and MR FOX. MARGOT's biggest fault was that there wasn't an empathetic character in the ensemble. Everyone was loathsome, and although it's good to have characters with flaws, making them so unlikable as to render the film an awful experience is taking things too far, unless that's the point. (It wasn't.) The characters in GREENBERG aren't exactly people you'd want to hang out with, but they are people you don't mind watching on a screen for ninety minutes, as was the case with SQUID.

Ben Stiller is great at drama, and I wish he'd do it more often. He completely sells Greenberg's mania in a way that I don't think most other actors could have. Rhys Ifans, usually either the best or worst thing about the films he's in, is as good as he's ever been. Without his withdrawn, sympathetic performance, I'm not sure GREENBERG would have worked. And yet, as great as they both are, the breakout performance is from Greta Gerwig. Gerwig has such an unusual yet believable manner to her, and grounds the film brilliantly. The sign of a good actor in films like this is if they can make stupid, foolhardy decisions seem completely natural, and Gerwig does this in spades.

GREENBERG is at its most interesting when seen in the context of Baumbach's oeuvre, and a part of me (the cynical part) wonders if that is deliberate. It may be an unfair criticism, but Baumbach's directorial efforts feel more and more like someone constructing a body of work rather than individual works. In this context, GREENBERG makes for an interesting film. On its own, it remains interesting, but perhaps not the groundbreaking character study I suspect it hopes to be.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

Australian release: June 3 // New Zealand release: TBA

Banksy is a pretty powerful pop culture figure. Whereas so much graffiti is comprised of jerks writing their names wherever they can, Banksy is the polar opposite: his "street art" is creative, clever, and -- without wanting to overanalyse it -- a pretty powerful social commentary. His work is pure art, a world away from simple tagging, and the fact that he's graduated to art shows and book publishing is impressive. Even more impressive is that nobody knows who he is.

This "documentary" about Banksy is actually about a Frenchman, Thierry Guetta, who sets out to make a documentary about street art and instead becomes the focus of it himself.

How you enjoy EXIT will depend a lot on your reading of it. There's obviously a lot of artifice in there, but where you draw the line between artifice in reality will give you a markedly different experience from someone who draws the line in a slightly different place. Personally, I think it's all made up. Well, okay, not all of it. I think Thierry is a creation, and there are a few tells that give him away: for starters, if you're going to make a mockumentary, having a central character be someone who compulsively films everything is a little too convenient. It's why I was never sold on the world of CLOVERFIELD.

How we talk about it hinges entirely on our perception of its reality, and so this review comes at it from a viewpoint that the film itself is a piece of performance art. A lot of what happens in the film is clearly real, particularly the duping of the LA art establishment into believing that a man with nothing to say could be considered an artist because he says he is. It's an insanely clever premise, and the fact that they pulled it off is remarkable.

As much fun as this film is to watch (and it is a lot of fun to watch), it will be more fun to discuss. Banksy has made a huge statement about what art is and how we view it, and the question of whether EXIT is real or not is essential to the discussion it elicits.

MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON

(Disclosure: my partner is the Publicity Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that is distributing MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON.)

Australian release: June 10 // New Zealand release: TBA

I have written in the past about my fraught relationship with French cinema. Whilst I love practically everything leading up to and including the French New Wave, its recent output is eclectic. I adored MICMACS, a film so many did not, but I loathed the drama 5X2 and was left cold by the almost-universally adored A PROPHET. In the case of 5X2, the painfully melancholy manner in which it told the story of two unpleasant people being largely unpleasant to one another annoyed me, as if it felt its fairly obvious subtext saved it from having to be narratively compelling. Thoughts of this film played dangerously in my mind during MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON.

Luckily, CHAMBON is much, much better than 5X2. Jean (WELCOME's Vincent Lindon) seems happy enough with his wife Anne-Marie (Aure Atika) and son Jérémy (Arthur Le Houérou), but is drawn to his son's new teacher, Véronique Chambon (Sandrine Kiberlain). And that's pretty much it. Whilst many films are successful when they concentrate not on the story but on the telling of it, it is a high wire act that does not always pay off.

It's interesting watching this film so soon after Douglas Sirk's THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (see below), which, for all intents and purposes, tells the same baisc story. Possibly constricted by the morals of the time, Sirk's lead is a reluctant participant in his own affair, unaware of his own familial unhappiness until it's brought to the fore and becomes impossible to overlook. CHAMBON is the opposite: Jean seems quite happy with his family, the only real conflicts being artificial ones he instigates himself. It's at its most interesting when we see him with his father, as if he is looking into a depressing image of himself in the future, but these well-handled and poignant scenes do not, on their own, convince me that Jean would embark so willfully on an affair. Nor is the distancing Véronique such a captivating figure that she would inspire such a transgression. Jean's wife is portrayed as being more fun, more open and outgoing, and, dare I say it, more attractive than Véronique. The film never sold me on Jean's motives, and given the people he was hurting, it was impossible to have sympathy for him. And I think audience sympathy for him is the film's intent.

Vincent Lindon, as stoic as he was in WELCOME, is an interesting figure, and he plays Jean well. He holds back more than I would have liked given the journey Jean is supposed to be taking, but Lindon is such an interesting figure to watch, it's hard to hold this against him. Sandrine Kiberlain is excellent as the titular Chambon, and even though I didn't see the allure that would compel a man away from his family, I did see a complex, rounded character. Aure Atika is terrific as Jean's wife, and Jean-Marc Thibault steals his few scenes as Jean's father.

MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON sits, in my view, in the dead centre of French cinema. It does not inspire the hatred in me that 5X2 or ALL ABOUT ACTRESSES did, but nor does it have the truly original and spellbinding elements that HOME or WELCOME had. Whilst I can almost make out the film that everyone is praising, it's certainly not the film I saw.

DVD REVIEWS

DOUGLAS SIRK: KING OF HOLLYWOOD MELODRAMA (April 24, Region 4)

The films: The only real problem with discussing so many historical films and directors is that after a while you can become so familiar with so many of them, you start to forget which ones you haven't actually seen. Such was the case with myself and Douglas Sirk. I would constantly cite him in conversations and film debates, and only recently when Madman sent through this extraordinary nine-film box set in beautiful embossed chocolate box-style packaging did I realise I'd not seen any of these films. I dove in, eager to discover whether Sirk, known (as the title of this box set indicates) for melodramas, was as great as his reputation.

1952's NO ROOM FOR THE GROOM is a very funny film which basically revolves around Tony Curtis trying to consummate his marriage to Piper Laurie. Curtis is great as the flustered soldier/husband, and it's surprising how overt the film is (given it was made in 1952) to Curtis's intentions. The DVD notes point out that Spring Byington, who plays Laurie's mother in the film, was also in Capra's YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU; apt, given the thematic and stylistic similarities between these two films.

1953's ALL I DESIRE isn't as funny as NO ROOM, but it's still a light, breezy fare by today's standards. Sirk's famed melodrama sensibilities are beginning to show, with Barbara Stanwyck's Naomi returning to the husband and children she abandoned years earlier. Character flaws are not sugar-coated, and the resolution, though a shade too easy to be satisfying, is certainly not perfectly neat and stays true to what is clearly its original intent. Stanwyck is brilliant in the mostly-unsympathetic role, and it doesn't hurt to have the glorious Maureen O'Sullivan in a supporting part.

1954's MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION is a massive aesthetic leap for Sirk. Suddenly he's in widescreen and in colour, and it looks amazing. A big part of the visual wonder comes from the fact that he films much of the movie at the extraordinary Big Bear Lake in California, which has got to rank as one of the most glorious vistas committed to film. It's that completely un-subtle locale and the wonderfully overwrought title that tell you what you're in for: characters in tricky emotional situations talking about little other than what and how they feel. It's becoming more apparent with every passing film why Sirk is so highly regarded; everything he does should make these films unbearable, and yet they work. They really work. MAGNIFICENT stars Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, and a series of improbable twists and turns. I'm only a few films into my Sirk exploration, but I'd say MAGNIFICENT is a good litmus test for whether you'd like his work or not. There's nothing to augment the melodrama, and it's done so damned well that if you don't like this film, you probably don't like melodrama in general. Which is perfectly understandable -- but then, I've still got six more films to get to.

1954's TAZA, SON OF COCHISE seems completely out of place in this set. Sirk directed forty-eight films, so this nine disc set is hardly comprehensive: with the subtitle "King of Hollywood Melodrama", it's natural to assume a consistent theme. TAZA feels less like the first three films on the set, and more like the midday movies I'd watch as a kid: Rock Hudson is Taza, a noble Apache warrior trying to keep the peace, in a film that feels as historically accurate as, say, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. It's certainly got melodrama to spare, but it's tangental to the John Ford-esque Western story. Seen as a Sunday afternoon matinee, it's a bit of fun, but despite it reportedly being Sirk's favourite of his American films, its nowhere near the level of his other work. I enjoyed watching it, but its inclusion in this set is baffling.

1955's ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS reunites Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman, and despite this being one of Sirk's most famous films (alongside IMITATION OF LIFE, which I can't wait to get to), the first twenty minutes or so do not bode well. At first, it feels like it's beginning to veer into Mills & Boon territory: the lonely widow must fend off vultures and boring suitors in favour of the hunky working class gardener! But it's the way Wyman's character is handled that elevate this beyond the worst examples of the genre. In fact, it's a lot like the men from a ten cent romance novel are airlifted into a much more interesting film, and have to deal with complexity they weren't prepared for. The film gets more interesting and complex as it goes on, and although I personally prefer the first three films on the set, this is an excellent film. It's remarkable to see Sirk's confidence growing.

1956's THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW is a contender for the best of the set. For a start, Fred MacMurray is the most likable he's ever been. (Sure, he's better in DOUBLE INDEMNITY and THE APARTMENT, but hardly likable in those.) Barbara Stanwyck is as brilliant as ever. But the story itself is the most subtle Sirk has dealt with so far, at least in this box set. MacMurray is struggling with ennui, a difficult thing to get across in film. What's interesting is that he seems unaware of his own unhappiness for most of the film, as if the audience is in on his thoughts in a way he isn't. This is the perfect balance of dramatic understatement and Sirk's signature melodramatic overstatement. It's weird to see Sirk go back to black and white, but it's a thematically astute choice. Some very dubious and outdated moralising dialogue aside, it's a strong film, and arguably a better one than ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS.

1958's A TIME TO LOVE AND A TIME TO DIE is epic at 132 minutes, and if you'd asked me to guess at the director from the film alone, I'd have gone with David Lean. It's quite different from most of Lean's films, but it's even more different from what I've seen of Sirk. The fact that this World War Two epic is told from the point-of-view of the Germans is remarkable given Sirk's notorious hatred of the Nazis, but perhaps less remarkable in light of the knowledge that Sirk's estranged son was forced into the Hitler Youth and was missing in action. Even in the 50s, there were few better ways to subversively show the horrors of war than to make a German soldier the main character. Some remarkable dialogue and amazing set pieces lead up to an ending that, in and of itself, proves what a master Sirk really was; Godard called this his favourite of all Sirk's films, and it's not hard to see why. (And keep your eye out for a very young Klaus Kinski as a Gestapo officer!)

1958's THE TARNISHED ANGELS is set during the 1930s Depression, and stars Rock Hudson as a newspaper reporter covering an airshow. Dorothy Malone and Robert Stack are the husband-wife team of high flyers trying to make a living in races and with daredevil antics. It's weird to recount not just the plot but the basic setup of the plot, given that's merely the backdrop to the story. Once again, the choice to shoot black and white is a perfect one: without the lush colours of his suburban melodramas, the characters feel less idealised. This adaptation of the William Faulkner novel is brilliant stuff, and the character conflicts in this are the more interesting and complex yet.

1959's IMITATION OF LIFE is a good example of saving the best for last. IMITATION attempts to do about fifty different things, and nails every single one of them; if trying to describe the plot of THE TARNISHED ANGELS was irrelevant, then trying to describe the plot of IMITATION OF LIFE is impossible. Lana Turner is amazing as a struggling actress/single mother who brings a "coloured" woman and her daughter into her home. Sirk has never been afraid of tackling tricky issues, but it's surprising to see the issue of race dealt with in such a complex manner a decade before GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. A paltry paragraph is not enough to properly convey the power of this film: if you haven't seen it, you must. And if you can watch the ending without crying like a little girl, I'd get someone to check for a pulse.

Conclusion: I will confess I was a tiny bit sceptical when beginning this set. A voice in the back of my head wondered if these films were just glorified soap operas, canonised due to age and self-unaware irony. Basically, I wasn't prepared to heap further praise on Sirk just because conventional wisdom said that Sirk was a genius. I was won over the hard way, and with every passing film Sirk's styles and technique unravelled itself. The more I saw, the more I realised that he was every bit the master filmmaker that his reputation suggested he was.

The extras: An astonishing one hour documentary called DAYS WITH SIRK, intercutting retrospective discussions about Sirk with excerpts from interviews with the man; a terrific ten minute interview with a modern-day Tony Curtis looking back at his work; two fantastic 22 minute documentaries about THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW; a great twenty minute doco looking at Sirk's cultural background; original theatrical trailers, which are always pure gold; commentaries; a brilliant, detailed accompanying booklet. Somewhat frustratingly, both ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS and IMITATION OF LIFE have "Disc One" on the menu, implying the individual editions have a second disc full of extras (which they do). It's a shame those discs could not be included in this set, given the hefty price tag. But the extras included are impressive in their own right.

Should you buy it: I've seen it retailing for $130, so it's hardly an impulse buy. But given it contains nine films that retail for about $30 or more individually, it's tremendous value. Quality-wise, it's an essential purchase for film geeks; if you love Old Hollywood, I can't imagine not owning this.

NEXT WEEK

- Short-lived 4th Century Pope St Eusebius gets seven competing biopics

- Europe finally sees the release of the HANNAH LIVERPOOL/KILOMETERY CYRUS movie

- Russell Crowe to play Zorro, focusing on a period in his life where he renovated his front porch

Peace out,

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback
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  • May 21, 2010, 12:54 p.m. CST

    scriptgirl...

    by adml_shake

    what ever happened to her? I was reminded of her reading through this.

  • May 21, 2010, 1:01 p.m. CST

    The Empire Strikes Back is 30 today...

    by LordPorkington

    And there's *STILL* no talkback? I know this isn't Latauro's fault, but it's a bloody disgrace that the so-called 'movie buffs' who run this site haven't posted a dedicated article to such a great movie. Sure, they can bleat on about obscure Westerns or Japanese movies from the 50's (which is all well and good), but to overlook such an iconic movie just smacks of ignorance on their part. I don't know who is running this site lately, but someone has some explaining to do.

  • May 21, 2010, 1:09 p.m. CST

    ESB is 30 today?

    by umbral_shadow_

    Shit. I feel old.

  • May 21, 2010, 1:37 p.m. CST

    umbral_shadow_

    by LordPorkington

    Tell me about it! It's shit like this that makes me forget that I'm not a kid anymore...

  • May 21, 2010, 2:31 p.m. CST

    The moral of Prince of Persia has never been

    by Bruce of all Trades

    That actions don't have consequences. In fact, as the games (the Sands of Time trilogy) progress, the consequences of the Prince's actions are crucial to the plot. But I digress... <p><p> If the movie ends in any way like the first one (and it probably does), then it's not about consequences. It's just a fun ride you go on for a couple of hours. And the prince's actions do have an effect in a sense -- he learns from his mistakes. He grows as a character. Hopefully, they keep the character development part in the movie.

  • May 21, 2010, 2:37 p.m. CST

    Sirkians

    by Dasinfogod

    It will never cease to amaze me how a few academics up and decided a couple decades ago that Douglas Sirk is worthy of study. Astonishing! At best, he was a journeyman director; otherwise he was little more than a talented hack with profoundly poor taste in subject matter. Melodrama is about as hoary a genre as there is out there, and not really something that lends itself to great cinema - no matter how twisted your rationalization...

  • May 21, 2010, 2:47 p.m. CST

    I could have predicted that about PoP.

    by Orbots Commander

    The trailers are bland and bloring and it makes the flick look like something that's direct to DVD. Besides, Gylenhaal as an Indy-ish character? I don't believe for a minute that he can pull it off. <p> The only other one than Ford or Depp that pulled that off, was the late River Phoenix when he played young Indy and likewise the late Heath Ledger in Knight's Tale.

  • May 21, 2010, 4:58 p.m. CST

    I liked Robin Hood...

    by allykatD

    Just saying. When the movie ended and "so the legend begins' came up, I was satisfied because I KNOW how the legend continues. I've seen THAT part of Robin Hood dozens of times and I don't need to see it again. Seeing a prequel was different. Again. I liked it.

  • May 21, 2010, 7:06 p.m. CST

    David and Margaret gave it 4.5/4 stars each!

    by Sydney2K

    I wonder what they saw in the movie that you didn't... http://www.abc.net.au/atthemovies/txt/s2879960.htm

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  • May 21, 2010, 9:08 p.m. CST

    Friend of mine in Spain saw Prince of Persia, says it's boring

    by FeralAngel

    He e-mailed me today, just read it. Didn't have a lot of good things to say about it, and was very disappointed. Ah well. The trailers looked kinda lame to me.

  • May 21, 2010, 9:11 p.m. CST

    Happy Birthday to Empire, happy birthday to you

    by I_shot_Cyrus

  • May 21, 2010, 9:37 p.m. CST

    Bruce of all Trades

    by BadMrWonka

    I interpreted what Latauro was talking about as just referencing video games in general. You play a level until you die or run out of lives, or whatever. Then, you just get a reset and try it again until you succeed. That they've applied that to a film (using the time travel device of the sand thingie) is a little too convenient, and I can only imagine, must take a lot of the power and suspense out of the narrative.

  • May 22, 2010, 7:33 a.m. CST

    "What could be words than....

    by scumbag

    ...that Patrick Bergin ROBIN HOOD?" Wow, surreal stuff.

  • May 22, 2010, 1:08 p.m. CST

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  • May 23, 2010, 4:41 p.m. CST

    "I'm sure that, like me, you wish you were at Cannes"

    by MajorFrontbum

    No, I'm glad it's you and not me. Why would I want to mingle with posers and people pretending to be nice to one another? Instead of attending these pointless film festivals, film makers should start concentrating on making excellent films, not this half baked crap that they're churning out with the "That'll Do" label, applied to it. Prick of Persia? There's no way I'd pay to watch that heap of shit! I might consider watching it, if they add a laugh track, but as it stands - it's just another turd, with a lot of sand.

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