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AICN-Downunder: I'M STILL HERE, THE LOVED ONES, THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION, and Carn the Saints!

Much has been written about the art of bullfighting, but I can sum it up in one sentence: get out of the way of the bull, you idiot! Otherwise he will rip open your anus like it was a cheap velcro wallet.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

Around this time last year, I allowed myself to get excited because of a tenuous link between the AFL Grand Final and the film FUNNY PEOPLE. On September 6, I watched the Saints beat Collingwood in a finals match. On September 7, I watched Eric Bana's character in FUNNY PEOPLE tell Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen about the game they were watching, which, as it turned out, was a finals match between the Saints and Collingwood.

Even though I first had to beat the omen into my own desired shape like it was an ill-behaving jigsaw puzzle piece, I decided it meant that the Saints would win their first Grand Final since 1966. The only Grand Final we've ever won. It was against Collingwood. The margin was one single point, and it happened in the final moments of the game.

So, tomorrow (at time of writing -- most likely today for you) the Saints will play Collingwood in the AFL Grand Final. We lost last year. We will win this year. Why? Because the last film I saw was THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION, in which Anthony Hopkins watches a Grand Final match between... no, I'm lying. But with my heart mended from the devastating loss, I am ready. CARN THE SAINTS!

NEWS

So, TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN has done exceptionally well at the box office. Why do we care? Because it looks like Stuart Beattie's plan for a trilogy followed by a TV series will almost certainly happen, and soon. I really dug the first film, so I'm counting this in the Very Good News column. No official deal has been announced yet, but there's little doubt that Beattie is working on the scripts and that the cast is working on their army training. Looking forward to seeing where it goes next.

I'm a bit surprised that the idea of turning films into musicals has taken off as much as it has, but here we are. STRICTLY BALLROOM is the next one to appear on stage, and it's a bit of an obvious one when you think about it. Baz Luhrmann will direct the musical starting this December, most likely in Sydney.

Filmmaker Samuel Genocchio was killed two weeks ago in a car accident, aged 43. Born in Melbourne and based in Sydney, Genocchio worked on "Neighbours", MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 and MOULIN ROUGE. His first film, 2004's GET RICH QUICK, won the Best Gratuitous Use of Violence award at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, and the Bonehead Award at the Bare Bones International Film Festival. His second film, BAD BUSH, was completed in 2008. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.

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, the self-explanatory GHOST SHARK 2: URBAN JAWS, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, self-described "womantic comedy" JUCY, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, the John Hurt/Emily Barclay-starring LOU, Nadia Tass's kids-with-leukemia romp MATCHING JACK, self-described "graphic novel-style bushranger adventure film" MOONLITE, the Joel Edgerton-starring SAY NOTHING, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant shark movie THE REEF, giant squid movie $QUID, long-awaited teen book adaptation TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, Cannes's closing night film THE TREE, the crowdsourcing horror film THE TUNNEL, and Claire McCarthy's THE WAITING CITY. And for those still reading, this here is me.

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

Australian Directors Guild Awards

The ADG Awards took place this past Thursday night, with Best Documentary Feature going to Gillian Armstrong for LOVE, LUST AND LIES, and Best Feature to David Michod for ANIMAL KINGDOM. The award for Outstanding Body of Work went to Robert Connnolly, producer of THE BOYS and ROMULUS, MY FATHER and director of THE BANK, THREE DOLLARS, and BALIBO. Check out the complete list of winners at Encore.

Adelaide Film Festival

What the hell is going on in South Australia? A leaked document last week suggested that funding for the South Australian Film Corporation was going to be severely cut, leading to the termination of the Adelaide Film Festival after its 2011 season. Fear not: the budget has come out, and according to Inside Film, the South Australian film industry is safe... FOR NOW. Was the leaked document a political ploy, or simply a bit of slash fiction? Either way, AFF, one of Australia's best film festivals, looks like its future is secured.

Toronto International Film Festival

THE KING'S SPEECH, a co-production between Australia and the UK, took out the People's Choice Award at Toronto last week. Directed by THE DAMNED UNITED's Tom Hooper and written by, er, THE MAGIC SWORD's David Seidler, the film stars (in case you've not heard of it) Helena Bonham Carter, Colin Firth, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi and Jennifer Ehle. Shame they couldn't get anyone good. Ahem. The film will come out in Australia and New Zealand on December 26, a month after its US release. Check out the recently-released trailer here.

BOX OFFICE

Congratulations, Australia, you just have M Night Shyamalan an excuse to keep making films. Seriously? THE LAST AIRBENDER at number one? There's nothing else worth watching? Actually, looking at many of the films in the box office, that's probably true. I'll forgive you your morbid curiosity. I keep getting stuck in traffic jams because you all have to slow down to look at car accidents, so I suppose the principle is the same. Don't forget to click on the linked films for the official AICN-Downunder review!

Australia

1. THE LAST AIRBENDER
2. DESPICABLE ME
3. THE OTHER GUYS
4. TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN
5. EASY A
6. THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
7. CATS AND DOGS 2: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE
8. SALT
9. INCEPTION
10. THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

New Zealand

1. DESPICABLE ME
2. THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
3. GROWN UPS
4. TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN
5. THE EXPENDABLES
6. INCEPTION
7. I AM LOVE
8. MOTHER AND CHILD
9. SALT
10. GOING THE DISTANCE

RELEASED THIS PAST FORTNIGHT

The film no one liked gets a sequel nobody wanted, Zac Efron finds a concept sillier than TWILIGHT, cue "It's good, but it's no Pixar" reviews, Adrian Mole may sue somebody, Chuck D's sister gets a biopic, how does a film with Kevin Kline and John C Reilly fly under the radar?, I can't even joke about this film existing, this girl sure does get up to some crazy stuff, Adam Sandler continues to make films he made fun of himself for making in FUNNY PEOPLE, this film's release date may in fact be a hoax, this film may also just be a giant hoax, infidel comedies seem to be all the rage in Britain at the moment, I wonder how well this film is doing in Broome, and Gordon Gecko emerges from jail to find Shia la Beouf has infiltrated his franchise as well.

CATS AND DOGS 2: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE (AUS/NZ)
CHARLIE ST CLOUD (AUS/NZ)
DESPICABLE ME (NZ)
DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (AUS/NZ)
EASY A (AUS)
THE EXTRA MAN (AUS)
FURRY VENGEANCE (AUS/NZ)
THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (AUS)
GROWN UPS (NZ)
I'M STILL HERE (AUS)
THE LAST AIRBENDER (AUS/NZ)
THE RELUCTANT INFIDEL (AUS)
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE (NZ)
WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (AUS/NZ)

REVIEWS

I'M STILL HERE

Australian release: September 16 // New Zealand release: TBA

There are few sub-genres as fascinating and potentially disastrous as the hoax mockumentary. Not all mockumentaries are hoaxes; films like THIS IS SPINAL TAP and BORAT do not operate on the premise that you believe everything contained within them is real, even if they contain unplanned moments involving real people. The hoax documentary is rare, and the only other one I can think of -- aside from I'M STILL HERE, just so we're clear -- is EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, because it is so recent. But EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP was not a hoax on the audience. It was predicted on the idea that everything within it is completely real, yet the hoax was one people featured in the film and carefully alluded to. I'M STILL HERE is a joke on us, but if we're aware of it, isn't the joke then on the makers?

There is almost no way to objectively parse what works and what doesn't in this film, because it is impossible to separate the intent of Joaquin Phoenix and director Casey Affleck. I'M STILL HERE purported to document the meltdown and abrupt career change of Joaquin Phoenix, from when he suddenly switched from being a successful actor to a wannabe rapper. It's been well-documented over the past year-and-a-half, and the instant-news speculative nature of our world meant that everybody was talking about whether it was a hoax or not before they'd even got going. Even Casey Affleck's announcement that the film is a hoax (though there were more than enough clues within the film to confirm this) doesn't halt the discussion of what exactly takes place in this extraordinary film: there is so much more to it than a mere prank.

Part of me really wants to applaud Affleck and Phoenix for this film. It's no idle, off-the-cuff film idea. It is a massive, massive performance piece involving the media, talk shows, and a man's life. Even though it has now been revealed to be a big joke and as Phoenix attempts to return to his acting career, there is no assurance that the fickleness of Hollywood would permit him to return (rumoured Hulk casting offers aside). He took a big gamble to make this film, and the point he is trying to make is impressive, though a bit muddled. He portrays himself as a man trying to strip away the artifice of his life and get back to something that's real, yet he remains obsessed with the artifice throughout, crushed by the new barriers he creates for himself. He talks about being real, but acts petulant and fake; he talks about being the hero of the documentary, and is anything but.

If the ironic counterpoints to his claims -- the tantrums, the tears, the lack of self-awareness -- were a little less on-the-nose, we might have been fooled, but it's ramped up just a little too high. The question -- now answered -- of whether it was real or not is key: you're either watching a meltdown, or actors portraying a meltdown on a world stage, and both of those films are very interesting ones.

Too many Sacha Baron Cohen-style sketch moments (a prank pulled on Phoenix caught on video) and people clearly in on the game (Ben Stiller essentially reprises his admirable butt-of-the-joke bit from "Extras" when offering Phoenix a role in GREENBERG), as well as a few giveaways in the end credits prevent us from ever really falling for the gag, but that does not prevent the film from being entertaining. Phoenix's appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" is the film's highlight, as is the show's aftermath. Moments like this are actually more extraordinary if you accept that it's part of a big hoax, and so the effect is heightened.

One of the big revelations is the direction by Casey Affleck. Whilst most of the film is shot in the predictably verité manner, Affleck has a keen eye, and highlights smaller moments with deft editing. The film's final moments are a bit overt, but work remarkably well, and put an interesting and essential coda on what might otherwise have seemed to be a pointless film.

It's a shame that so much of this movie was spoiled before it was even edited together, but there was really no other way to do it. Pulling a prank this big, on this scale is impossible to do without alerting everyone to what's going on. It's clear they assumed that the extremes they were going to would put paid to rumours that it was all fake, and you sure can't fault Phoenix and Affleck for not going far enough. We live in a fake, cynical age that consumes media and its meanings far too fast, and that is both the point of the film and its undoing.

THE LOVED ONES

Australian release: November 4 // New Zealand release: TBA

There are few things I love more than an Australian film surprising me in all the right ways. The excruciatingly long wait, the hype coming in from all directions, and the fact that I don't particularly love horror films meant that the deck was stacked against THE LOVED ONES -- an Australian horror film that has been doing the festival rounds for the past year -- and this handicap underlines the impact it had on me.

I was thrown by the laid back and affable nature of the film's opening: a teen on a driving lesson with his dorky dad. It's a great opening, not just because it's one of the rare times that a local film manages to accurately convey a laid-back atmosphere -- we're such a laid-back people, why do so many films fail at portraying this? -- but because it wrong-foots us completely. The tone suggests a teen horror film. Would a group of unlikely friends investigate a mysterious-looking house during a camping trip? Would a killer come to their small town and terrorise the high school formal? Which variation-on-a-familiar-theme would this be?

What took the rug out from under me was what this film aspires to be. THE LOVED ONES owes more to the gritty horror films of the 70s -- TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and its ilk -- than the slasher films of the 80s, or the ironic postmodern horrors of the 90s, or the remakes-that-miss-the-point of the 00s. The film doesn't look cheap, but it manages to utilise that wonderfully dirty, gritty, bloody feeling that certain 70s horror films evoked. The violence is hard and brutal, and you feel every moment of it: the "bad guys" behind it are suitably unhinged; the main characters are people you genuinely care about. On paper, the mix of styles -- the relatable real-world feeling of the teens, and the bug-fuck insanity of the horror element -- would seem incongruous, but writer/director Sean Byrne makes it work effortlessly.

The press notes suggest the characters owe more to a John Hughes film than to other horrors, and it's a very apt comparison. Horror teens in a horror film are rarely interesting, but teens made to reflect actual teens, well, we care about them when they're in danger. The cast is uniformly excellent, with a genuine star-making performance from Xavier Samuel. Robin McLeavy has the toughest job of the bunch, playing mega-nutsoid in a film filled with real characters, but manages to hit the right note every time. John Brumpton, Victoria Thaine, Jess McNamee and an almost-unrecognisable Richard Wilson are all spot-on perfect in their roles.

The oddest part of the film is a subplot that, on first glance, appears to go nowhere. It's like the B story of a TV show where others in the cast are given their own little plot to go on with because they're not included in the main story. Although an argument could be made for that interpretation, I think there's a deftness to this subplot -- those who have seen the film will know the one I mean; I shan't spoil for those who haven't -- in the way that it doesn't affect the main story, but is itself affected by the main story. It is also thematically strong, and complements the main story in an exceedingly clever way. You could edit it out of the film and everything would still make sense, but it's a better film with that subplot in it.

When I said earlier that I don't particularly love horror films, it's because 95% seem to be utter shite, and wading through those to find the 5% of gold is usually an unenviable task. THE LOVED ONES sits more than comfortably inside that 5% of great horror, and will undoubtedly find its audience. In the meantime, someone fund Sean Byrne's next film, stat.

THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION

Australian release: October 14 // New Zealand release: TBA

Having forgotten everything about this film except the place and time of the media screening, I was delighted to discover it was a Merchant-Ivory film. Unlike what seems to be the majority of film geeks, I actually enjoy many of their films, particularly THE REMAINS OF THE DAY. It's un-hip, but it's true. So I was not disappointed to see James Ivory was at the helm, nor that the cast included Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Unfortunately, this overwrought film never lives up to its promise, which is odd given its promise is actually quite unambitious. When a post-grad student decides to write a biography of deceased author Jules Gund, he travels to South America to convince the people who control Gund's estate -- his brother (Hopkins), his widow (Linney) and his mistress (Gainsbourg) -- to let him write an authorised account.

If this setup sounds like a slam-dunk for this director and this cast, prepare yourself for a surprise. The film clunks along like a square wheel, lurching from expository scene to expository scene. No emotion is left unexpressed; no subtext is left unturned. It's as if someone went through and wrote script notes, "Here, she should be feeling this", "This is the scene in which he realises what the bee sting is a metaphor for", and those script notes got turned into actual dialogue. It's tremendously amateurish stuff, even more surprising coming from screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. I'd be quicker to condemn her if she didn't have a proven track record with some terrific films (most of which are Merchant-Ivory productions, including the afore-mentioned REMAINS OF THE DAY), so I instead remain confused.

I'd love to say the acting saved it, but with such underwritten characters, there's not many places for them to go. Hopkins, Linney and Gainsbourg all appear to be trying too damn hard, which is really all they can do with this material. If you've ever thought Anthony Hopkins would be captivating if he were reading a phone book, this is the film that comes closest to testing this theory. He's captivating as always, but it's more than a little gruesome to see him machete his way through dialogue that was better left in character background notes. "You do, after all, deal in antiques," he tells his lover in so many words, a moment of painfully clunky exposition that represents every single line in this film.

Lead actor Omar Metwally doesn't fare much better, with his off-putting over-earnestness ratcheted up to eleven. His character, Omar, is so affable and wide-eyed and shocked at the world around him, you sometimes wonder how he managed to put on his shoes let alone get himself an academic grant.

The film finishes with an irrelevant, awkward scene that Probably Worked Better In The Book, which is a thought I had many times during the film. It is indicative of everything that came before it: misjudged, poorly-handled, irrelevant.

Allow me to finish on a positive note: the production design is nice.

DVD REVIEWS

BUNNY AND THE BULL (September 15, Region 4)

The film: I loved BUNNY AND THE BULL when it came out earlier this year, despite initial misgivings. When it started, I was worried it was going to be Michel Gondry Light, but director Paul King soon proved that the artifice -- brilliant, brilliant artifice at that -- was genuinely representative of something deeper. It's a tremendous film, original and clever in every single way.

The extras: A really good collection here, with deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes doco, a trailer, a blooper reel, and a thing called Get the Picture with Paul King, which is sort-of a mini-doco on the production design.

Should you buy it: A definite yes.

NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU (September 15, Region 4)

The film: I didn't see the previous film, PARIS, JE T'AIME, but the idea of a series of interconnecting short films centering on people moving in a specific city is a good one. The idea of sourcing filmmakers from around the world, instead of those known for their New York sensibilities, is an interesting one that works as much as it doesn't. Although it would be cliché to get the likes of Woody Allen and Nicole Holofcener, directors such as Shekar Kepur, Mira Nair and Fatih Akin don't really capture anything particularly unique about the city. Still, that appears to be the point: these short films only happen to be set in New York, and any impact the city's personality has on the stories is a purely tangental one. But as a feature comprised of short films goes, NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU is a pretty good one, with some lovely moments and the occasional but welcome throughline. It's certainly better than the reviews at the time of its cinema release suggested, and I enjoyed it far more than I'd anticipated.

The extras: Two short films cut from the main release include THESE VAGABOND SHOES starring Kevin Bacon and written/directed by Scarlett Johansson and APOCRYPHA directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (THE RETURN). Johansson's VAGABOND SHOES is good, and its exclusion from the main feature was a wise move. That's not a detraction, it's just a markedly different style, looking more like a Jim Jarmusch film than anything from the main event. APOCRYPHA is another wise cut. It's stylistically more in line with the feature, though its pace is notably slower. It's very pretty and well made, and, like VAGABOND SHOES, works better on its own. There's also the film's original theatrical trailer, which does its best to spoil the twists of each and every individual story.

Should you buy it: The quality of the shorts and the pace at which they move along suggest it's one for repeat viewings, so I'd err on the side of "yes" for this one.

WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (September 15, Region 4)

The film: One of the best documentaries of the year. The first sentence, so awkward and abrupt, was put up front because I'm sure many people who read this column will simply scan through it, and I'm hoping to catch their eye. This is because WILLIAM KUNSTLER really is one of the best docos I've seen all year, and I want it on everyone's radar. I'm surprised I hadn't heard of him before given how many high profile cases he'd been involved with (including the Trial of the Chicago Eight and the riot at Attica). This film is directed by his daughters, Emily and Sarah Kunstler, and they do a remarkable job. You would expect their closeness to him to bias them, but they wear these biases on their sleeves, neither deifying him or condemning him: they have, after all, seen the best and worst of him, and this fact comes suitably across. Their closeness to him is a perfectly-balanced thing; any further mentions would have overwhelmed the film, but any fewer would have seemed suspicious. It is the story of one of the most interesting men of the 20th century, and any one of the dozens of stories about his life would make for a fascinating film in its own right, from his near-death experience in war and his subsequent actions, to any one of the major trials he became deeply involved with. It's unwittingly apt for today as well: compare the furore of those against African Americans to today's furore against Muslims, and the film takes on a new layer. An extraordinary film I cannot recommend highly enough.

The extras: There's the excellent theatrical trailer, but more captivating is the bonus footage included on the disc, including home movies, television appearances, and more. Really tremendous stuff.

Should you buy it: Absolutely.

SEVERED WAYS (September 15, Region 4)

The film: Pointing out the flaws of a film that clearly had no budget is never a nice or particularly helpful thing to do, but when the film garners a major DVD release, judging it on a slightly higher standard is reasonable. This film -- apparently shot on DV -- follows the adventures of two 11th Century Vikings abandoned on the shores of America. They must survive using only their mullets and anachronistic heavy metal soundtrack. The film begins with an overly-long and pretentious scrawl, before dividing itself into helpfully spoilery chapters. My favourite moment is the title card for chapter two, in which one of the Vikings stands on a rock and headbangs for about thirty seconds as the unintentionally-hilarious title card reads: "CHAPTER TWO - CAMP". At least we agree on something. Any good will I had for the filmmakers (clearly working against the odds) evaporated twenty minutes in, after several clearly un-faked shots of animal cruelty and a genuine close-up of one of the Vikings defecating in the woods. I pity anyone who falls for such lame shock tactics. Look, on some level, I was impressed by the fact that they made this film, but as a viewer, I remained bored and irritated.

The extras: Some trailers and "severed scenes". When the best bit of the film is the DVD credits page (a genuinely funny easter egg from Madman), you know you're in trouble.

Should you buy it: If you like supporting low budget filmmakers no matter what they do, then yes. If you like films to be watchable, then no.

NEXT WEEK

- Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt find themselves trying to raise a heavy metal band in CHEAPER BY THE DANZIG

- Fox looks to annoying YouTube viral videos for sequel concept THE A-MEME

- Davis Guggenheim admits AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH was a hoax, and promises that Al Gore will resume his career as a politician soon

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 24, 2010, 3:32 p.m. CST

    First cunts

    by darrenspool

  • Sept. 26, 2010, 1:24 a.m. CST

    The Loved One's director

    by Scathing

    I saw his short "Advantage Satan" at Dungog a few years ago. I knew then, Sean Byrnes was one to watch. He really should put that short on the DVD release of "The Loved Ones"

  • Sept. 26, 2010, 1:25 a.m. CST

    Saints vs Pies

    by Scathing

    And for those of you wondering, the Grand Final between St Kilda and Collingwood ended in a draw. First time since, 1948 I think. The match gets replayed next week. After a stalemate in the Federal Election, it makes us look a tad indecisive.

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