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AICN-Downunder: THE LOSERS, MOTHER AND CHILD, THE GHOST WRITER, and more!

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AICN-DOWNUNDER

Back in my university days, I was 1st AD and editor on a short film for my friend Samantha Strauss. The film was a sort of fantasy ballet horror called LEARNING TO FLY, and to this day I've refrained from telling Sam that to this day it's one of the best student films I've seen, 'cos I don't want her to get a big head.

Coincidentally -- or, rather purposefully -- "Learning to Fly" is the title of the first episode of "Dance Academy", a new ABC1 show about kids struggling to make it as dancers at a tough Sydney dance school. Sam is the co-creator and writer of the show, which got off to a cracking start this week. And because I have absolutely no qualms about promoting the work of my friends, I instruct you all to watch it, forthwith. (5:20pm on ABC1 for Australian viewers.)

NEWS

VACANCY writer Mark L Smith revealed to Bloody Disgusting that he'd written a script called THE REVENANT, which may star Christian Bale and be directed by the brilliant Aussie helmer John Hillcoat.Hillcoat, you'll note, has made GHOSTS... OF THE CIVIL DEAD, THE PROPOSITION, and THE ROAD, and is three-out-of-three in both quality and grim dystopia! The revenge film is set in the wild frontiers of the late 1800s, and sounds right up Hillcoat's alley. It's based on the book by Michael Punke, and according to CHUD originally featured the intriguing pairing of Samuel L Jackson and Park Chan-Wook!

Budding Melbourne actors, keep an eye on a company called Primal People. A suspicious, wary eye. Apparently, they're holding "open call" casting sessions for the film THE CUP, and are charging a $30 per person registration fee. Dodgy as this sounds, it's even dodgier when you discover that the company has absolutely no connection to the film at all. No, if you really want a part in THE CUP, your best bet is to send a cheque to "Latauro c/o Ain't It Cool News, PO BOX...."

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, self-described "womantic comedy" JUCY, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, the John Hurt/Emily Barclay-starring LOU, 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

St Kilda Film Festival 2010

One of Australia's most prestigious short film festivals wrapped up last week with TOMORROW picking up Best Short Film, Best Director and Best Actor; INK picked up Best Animation, Best Screenwriting and Best Sound. The complete list of winners can be viewed on the website.

2009 Film Critics Circle of Australia Awards

Better late than never seems to be the motto of the FCCA, which has only now announced its picks for the best films of 2009. SAMSON AND DELILAH picked up Best Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography; BALIBO received Best Actor for Anthony LaPaglia, Best Editing and Best Score; BEAUTIFUL KATE won Best Supporting Actress for Rachel Griffiths and Best Supporting Actor for Bryan Brown; BLESSED won best actress for Frances O'Connor; DISGRACE took out Best Screenplay; Best Feature Documentary went to CONTACT; Best Short Documentary was tied between SALT and SOLO; Best Foreign Language Film was won by LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and Best Foreign Film (English Language) went to INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.

V48 Hours 2010

The "hilarious deadpan ghost story" ONLY SON beat 650 other short films to win this year's V48 Hours in Auckland. The film will be playing at Fantastic Fest this year, and can be viewed by clicking here.

4th Dungog Film Festival

It's amazing how much excitement and interest Dungog has been able to build up in its four short years. Although it's a bit late of me to talk about this year's festival after the fact (it wrapped up last weekend), it's worth mentioning for many reasons, not least of which is for the world premiere of its opening night film LOU. Written and directed by Belinda Chayko, the film stars legendary British actor John Hurt and AFI award winner Emily Barclay. Also premiering at the festival was ROAD TRAIN, the Aussie teen horror film that sounds like a shlocky supernatural version of DUEL. In a good way. Interestingly, ROAD TRAIN has been picked up by Fangoria in the US, which will put ROAD TRAIN up against seven other films, allowing website users to vote for the one they most want to see released on the big screen. ROAD TRAIN, known in the US as ROAD KILL, will be available in US Blockbuster outlets across the country.

BOX OFFICE

When the inevitable sequel hits, I'd love to see the follow up to the number one film retain the subtitle but switch franchises. So you could follow up PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE SANDS OF TIME and, logically, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE SANDS OF TIME. Just make it a bait'n'switch for every sequel. Come up with three franchises, three plots, and interchange them until you've got nine ready-made scripts. Jerry, you have my phone number. (It's nine.)

Australia

1. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
2. ROBIN HOOD
3. THE KINGS OF MYKONOS: WOG BOY 2
4. IRON MAN 2
5. THE BACK-UP PLAN
6. STREETDANCE 3D
7. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
8. LETTERS TO JULIET
9. THE LOSERS
10. HARRY BROWN

New Zealand

1. PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME
2. BOY
3. ROBIN HOOD
4. STREETDANCE 3D
5. IRON MAN 2
6. THE BLIND SIDE
7. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
8. THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
9. THE LOSERS
10. HOME BY CHRISTMAS

RELEASED THIS PAST FORTNIGHT

I'm not sure how much more I can express my love for this film, Andy Garcia dreams of becoming an actor, the English kitchen sink turns out to be brilliant, Paul Bettany announces his retirement from acting by appearing in this film, Chris Evans has officially won me over for Captain America, I'm not sure how much more I can express my love for not having watched this film, I'm only seeing this film to see how it sets up the rest of the trilogy, this film could have done with one more tier of title, I seriously had no idea this had even come out, I have no words to express the extent of my loathing, this is a movie that could have done gangbusters in 3D, and I believe this is a documentary about the time Charles Dance was homeless.

ANIMAL KINGDOM (AUS)
CITY ISLAND (AUS)
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (NZ)
FISH TANK (AUS)
LEGION (AUS)
THE LOSERS (AUS)
MARMADUKE (AUS)
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (NZ)
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME (AUS/NZ)
REPO MEN (AUS)
SEX AND THE CITY 2 (AUS/NZ)
THE STONING OF SORAYA (AUS)
STREETDANCE 3D (AUS/NZ)

REVIEWS

THE LOSERS

Australian release: May 27 // New Zealand release: May 20

Given that the last ten years have seen the traditional action movie losing favour to the comic book superhero movie, it's interesting to see superhero movies feed back into the traditional action movie, as if THE LOSERS is a perfect example of convergent evolution. THE LOSERS is exactly that: it's your standard men-on-a-mission movie, but the sheen that comes from accurately adapting all the original quirks and twists inherent in the better comics make this something better.

Recounting the plot is pointless: it's an action movie, there are guys with guns, and a lot of shooting takes place. If you need to know more than that going in, then you've never seen an action film before. What's impressive about THE LOSERS is how well executed it is. With the exception of Jason Patric's botoxed performance as the bad guy, there's very little in here that isn't hugely entertaining. Chris Evans is hilarious and surprisingly chameleonic in a performance that so easily could have echoed others he's given; Zoe Saldana is, as usual, one of the best things about the film; Jeffrey Dean Morgan, it turns out, can really carry a film. I always thought of him as a solid supporting character actor, but was blown away by the charm and ease with which he carried the movie is kind-of exciting. He's Clooney-esque in the way he recalls the presence of old school Hollywood stars, and I hope this is just the first time we see him in the lead role. He's immediately become someone I would go out of my way to see in a film, and given I would say that of Saldana and Evans, a hat needs to be tipped to the casting director.

Sylvain White's direction is excellent, and the way he post-modernly acknowledges the film's comic book origins skews this adaptation towards the realm of similar self-aware comic stories like WATCHMEN, KICK-ASS, and SCOTT PILGRIM. This is no bad thing.

It will hardly rewrite cinematic history, but THE LOSERS does everything it says on the tin. As someone who grew up largely uninterested in action movies, I didn't realise how hungry I was for a really good, solid action film that nails every moment. THE LOSERS sates that hunger, and is some of the most fun I've had in a cinema for a while.

MOTHER AND CHILD

Australian release: June 17 // New Zealand release: TBA

It's fitting that only one column after my enormous Douglas Sirk review (if you didn't read it, I advise you to check it out), I should be treated to a melodrama that makes no bones about its intent. It's not augmented by a fantasy element, like the perfect THE FOUNTAIN, nor is it a knowing throwback to Sirk's work, like the wonderful FAR FROM HEAVEN. This is a melodrama that lives and dies on its own feet, and in the age of ubiquitous soap operas, this is no small ambition.

The first two minutes of the film is a masterclass in imparting information. Annette Bening's character has her entire life story shown to us within about a minute, and without a word of dialogue spoken. A moment later, Naomi Watts is in a job interview, and her life story is imparted verbally. It's shamelessly blunt exposition, and it works. But it also suggests to us that this is not one singular sort of film. It's willing to do something and then contradict itself within a moment, much like the characters themselves.

The story told revolves around a number of characters whose lives all intersect somehow, but to dismiss this as sub-Altman or even sur-CRASH is to miss the film's uniqueness. So often, character dramas that hinge on flawed people played by movie stars do their level best to make sure you emphathise with them. They are frequently normal, well-adjusted people with some small flaw that informs their storyline, but ultimately people you'd still want to hang out with. In MOTHER AND CHILD, Bening and Watts are both emphathetic, but not necessarily people you'd want to spend any time with.

You'll note I am deliberately avoiding telling you anything about the plot. This is one of those instances where I went in knowing nothing but the fact that Bening was in it, and I came to the film on its own terms, not knowing anything more about cast or crew or setup. It's the ideal way to watch it. Hell, it's the ideal way to watch any film.

The incredibly restrained writing and directing by Rodrigo Garcia is pretty much a declaration that good drama can still work. The cast itself is a revelation: Annette Bening is incredible as the directionless Linda, and her performance grounds the film completely. Naomi Watts, who often seems to struggle with her characters when she's not appearing in groundbreaking David Lynch films or making out with building-sized monkeys, has channelled her occasional -- how do I say this? -- iciciness into a characters whose detachment is core to her being. (Just glancing over Watts's filmography, I'm being unfair: she was also perfect in I HEART HUCKABEES, and that icy blonde fit EASTERN PROMISES and THE RING quite well. It was the loathsome 21 GRAMS that stuck in my head, not helped by the fact that Inaratu executive produces MOTHER AND CHILD. My point is that she's better in this.) Jimmy Smits is spot-on as the co-worker who becomes taken with Bening, and Kerry Washington is brilliant as a hopeful mother-to-be. It's Samuel L Jackson that's the revelation, however, and that's no minor feat given the number of films he appears in. Jackson so rarely does dramas, and his commanding screen presence is exactly what the film needed.

MOTHER AND CHILD never shies away from its relentless examination of what makes a mother, and what makes a child, and pretty much every single character is defined by being one of either, or both. The film is perhaps twenty minutes too long, and there are a half dozen moments throughout the film that feel forced or unnatural, but these moments are notable because they are so rare. An unexpected, wonderful surprise of a film.

THE GHOST WRITER

Australian release: August 12 // New Zealand release: September 15

If it's possible to discuss Polanski as a director without descending into a morality debate about his personal behaviour, then he's as good as he ever was. At least, that's the case when going by THE PIANIST, a remarkable film that showed a distinct evolution from the early work it nevertheless stands shoulder-to-shoulder with. The prospect, therefore, of THE GHOST WRITER -- a thriller starring Pierce Brosnan as an ex-Prime Minister and Ewan MacGregor as the ghost writer for his memoirs -- was beyond tempting.

The movie starts promisingly. A terrific opening, a funny setup with MacGregor getting the job, and we're off and away. Bizarrely, as the film trundles along, it becomes clear that this is not the high-brow political thriller its pedigree suggests. THE GHOST WRITER is pulp through-and-through, an airport novel that would sit comfortably alongside Dan Brown's oeuvre. And that's fine, if you go in expecting that. There's nothing wrong with a fun pulp romp, if that's your bag. It's possible that my problems with THE GHOST WRITER, all of which I shall momentarily outline, stem from the fact that I just don't like airport thrillers. So keep that in mind.

The film makes no attempt to win you over to its believability. It's why I think approaching this film the way you'd approach a Dan Brown movie is a good idea: conspiracy theories and strange character motivations are the norm, so just go with it. You don't have to believe it. Ewan MacGregor's character narrates his actions when he's left alone, in one of the script's oddest decisions. I'm a huge fan of MacGregor, even in bad films, and his charisma is not lessened here, but the non-character he's been given to play is not made any more believable by this constant addressing-the-audience.

There are many elements competing for Most Ridiculous Part of the Film. Coming in third is the left-field cameo by James Belushi, who manages to look more and more like John Goodman every day. Kim Cattrall is an extremely close second in the Ridiculousness stakes. She was well in front for most of the film, what with being inexplicably miscast as a prim Englishwoman, whose accent was clearly coached by Kevin Costner. But no, she was beat out by the film's twist, one I have to admit I predicted about halfway through the film, and one that is presented in the most ridiculous manner. The final five minutes of the film contain some of the oddest choices I've seen in a major film, in both the way the "twist" is discovered by the character in question and the way it is revealed to the audience. It's flaccid, laughable stuff, and unless I'm much mistaken, directly contradicts one of the earlier revelations. But it's such a clumsy contradiction, I'll give the film the benefit of the doubt here and assume I misunderstood something.

The film is informed by the post-New Labour feeling of betrayal that so many Britons seem obsessed by, but it seems more at home hurling conspiracy theories and random accusations than examining what really went wrong. This is, of course, not a straight biopic, but the film goes to great pains to remind you that Pierce is playing Blair, and as such, the accusations levelled against him are meant to echo those levelled against Blair. It subsequently makes the whole exercise feel childish, as if any accusation is valid because the man it is directed against is Bad.

There are some great moments in this film, but these are drowned out by a limp, silly script. Polanski's not-inconsirable directorial skills elevate the film somewhat, but I'm not sure that does the film any favours. It's pulpy stuff, and needed to be treated that way. A strange and disappointing experience.

DVD REVIEWS

MOTHER (May 17, Region 4)

The film: I'm not sure where to begin with this film. It was, hands-down, one of the best films of last year, and had I not been absolutely smitten by two Australian films, MOTHER would have been the best of 2009 for me. Bong Joon-Ho, who directed the brilliant MEMORIES OF MURDER and THE HOST delivers his best work to date in this powerful, understated story of a woman trying to prove the innocence of her son. Telling you more is pointless. This is my original reviews, this is its entry in my top ten of the year.

The extras: I'd be perfectly content with just the film, but they've got all out on the extras package. There's a really interesting making of doco looking at the start and end of the shoot; an interview with Bong Joon-Ho; looks at all of the characters; a behind the scenes doco; a teaser; a trailer.

Should you buy it: No question. This is one of those must-have films. Your collection is a loser without it.

THE FRENCH KISSERS (May 4, Region 4)

The film: I was a bit unsure of THE FRENCH KISSERS when I first saw it, but it grew on me a lot as it progressed, and more when I pondered it later, and even more when I watched it again on DVD. As I described in my original reviews, it's essentially the French answer to AMERICAN PIE, and although I don't mind AMERICAN PIE, THE FRENCH KISSERS has a lot more heart to it. A terrific, funny film.

The extras: Seemingly in lieu of the usual makings-of, the disc is loaded with trailers, from the original French trailer and teasers to the exclusive Australian one.

Should you buy it: It's funny, cultish, and very endearing. One to pick up.

NOODLE (May 4, Region 4)

The film: This story of an Israeli woman suddenly forced to care for a young Chinese boy whose mother has been deported is an odd one indeed. It's not just that those two cultures are a very odd mix, but the manner in which the story is told. It does not go for impossible frothiness, but tells its tale as realistically as possible. That said, there are no Hard Truths or Difficult Scenes that so many films feel obliged to include for the sake of credibility. The film's score by Haim Frank Elfman, despite his namesake, recalls lighter Thomas Newman scores, giving the film a welcome sense of levity. Directed by Ayelet Menahemi and starring the wonderful Mili Avital (who will always be the flower girl from DEAD MAN to me), it's a terrific film that appeals to the part of you that enjoys quirky character pieces, but loathes the saccharine levels that most usually hit.

The extras: A theatrical trailer that, whilst being well-cut and making great use of the film's assets, completely spoils the ending of the film.

Should you buy it: If light-yet-substantial character dramas are your bag, this is one you should definitely add to your collection.

ENDGAME (May 4, Region 4)

The film: "From the director of VANTAGE POINT" is not an inspiring sentence. In fact, I had to look up my original review of the forgettable film to make sure I did not, in fact, enjoy it. Pete Travis's ENDGAME is set in 1985 South Africa, and although it features Nelson Mandela, it is Thabo Mbeki who takes centre stage. Given the power of the subject matter and characters, the film is oddly disaffecting and distant. You can see what they're going for with the hopefully-intense dialogue scenes Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mbeki and William Hurt's Will Esterhuyse, but they don't quite have the intended effect. They seem to be hoping for a more visceral CRY FREEDOM, and although the directorial style feels completely at odds with the story being told, it works. The film gains momentum as it trundles along, and the unpromising opening soon gives way to a more interesting overall film. Hardly a great film, but certainly a good one. (Oh, and the title cards at the end of the movie contain an errant apostrophe. I may be OCD, but that's some lazy shit.)

The extras: Cast and crew interviews, plus a theatrical trailer.

Should you buy it: It's not a must-buy, but nor is it something I'd turf if it made its way into your collection. If you were to do a marathon of historical South African films, it would have its place, but it would be imposed upon by giants.

NEXT WEEK

- Due to a mix-up at a post-production facility, the DVD of THE GHOST WRITER will feature Pierce Brosnan with a flaming skull head

- Chris Evans fired as Captain America when a Marvel survey reveals audiences are still confused about why Happy Hogan and Foggy Nelson look so similar

- A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequel to feature Freddy looking for love in the suburbs in KRUEGER TOWN

Peace out,

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback
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  • June 4, 2010, 8:43 a.m. CST

    No news is good news

    by ATARI

  • June 4, 2010, 8:52 a.m. CST

    I don't know...

    by wampa 1

    ...but it sure smells good!

  • June 4, 2010, 10:04 a.m. CST

    "A film about the time Charles Dance was homeless"

    by The Ringwraith

    Pissed myself

  • June 4, 2010, 10:08 a.m. CST

    Wow, The former prime minister (Brosnan)was a CIA sleeper agent!

    by TheManWhoCan

    Wow, The former prime minister (Brosnan)was a CIA sleeper agent! No wait! Twist no 2:His wife was the CIA agent, not the prime minister himself. And she was influencing him over the years to be all pro U.S.A during his term! Then Brosnan gets assassinated by a pissed off ex solder and Ewan McGregor gets hit by a car in the end after he figures it out! <p> Sorry for the spoilers! But the review on this article may have gotten people curious enough to buy the DVD and essentially fund Polanskis continued freedom! Movie was kind of a big nothing anyway. Download of the torrents if you must see it, but really, it’s a stupid movie.

  • June 4, 2010, 10:11 a.m. CST

    The Losers...

    by The Ringwraith

    Saw it tonight - me and my girlfriend both enjoyed it very much. Funny, fast-paced, no-nonsense. My one complaint is that the action is typical quick-cut choppy straight to DVD nonsense. Some parts were better than others, but compare the bedroom fight with the similar version in Mr and Mrs Smith. The latter manages to be rougher, funnier AND less headache-inducing.

  • June 4, 2010, 12:02 p.m. CST

    Agree that The Losers is a blast

    by Quake II

    So much more fun and cooler than Iron Man 2. The "death by jet engine" scene was one of the coolest action moments since The Matrix. I really can't point out a single issue I had with the film. Jason Patrick was bland as a villian but it didn't really matter. His total screen time was about 15 minutes. The cast was great. I HOPE The Losers has some great dvd sales so we can see a sequel.

  • June 4, 2010, 12:55 p.m. CST

    I couldn't finish watching The Losers

    by alan_poon

    Whoever said Jason Patric ruins the film was spot on.

  • June 4, 2010, 3:51 p.m. CST

    Quake II

    by RPLocke

    Death by Jet Engine was also done six year ago on TV on Lost.

  • June 4, 2010, 4:21 p.m. CST

    RPLocke....The way it was delivered...

    by Quake II

    ...in The Losers. Sniper bullet to a Ducati motorcycle engine, slow-mo explosion launches the driver into a jet engine which takes out the entire plane. Just a cool old fashioned kill. 80's style.

  • June 4, 2010, 6:51 p.m. CST

    Losers bombed abysmally, didn't it?

    by JayLenoTookMyJob

    I assumed it was one of those "Harry loved it, therefore it sucked, and hard" sort of films. I've since learned, though, it was one of those "Really good films, but didn't have Adam Sandler or fart jokes in it so Americans were clueless" sort of films. I'll catch it on cable or Blu-Ray, I hope!