Movie News

AICN-Downunder: THE SOCIAL NETWORK, LET ME IN, THE TOWN, FAIR GAME, WINTER'S BONE, MADE IN DAGENHAM, BURIED, COPACABANA, More!!

Published at: Oct. 15, 2010, 11:17 a.m. CST


You're going to be successful, and rich. But you're going to go through life thinking that girls don't like you because you're a nerd. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won't be true. It'll be because you're an asshole.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

A common complain I hear (and, to be honest, often make) is that Australian films don't really reflect who we are, but after seeing the results of a recent survey, I'm starting to think that maybe who we are is incorrect.

The Australia Day Council of New South Wales recently revealed the results of a study that say 58% of people believe that local films "only sometimes accurately represent who we are" and capture "the real Australia". These are vague and unscientific terms at best, which don't really reveal as much as they think they do. Apparently, the best representations of Australians come from THE CASTLE (at number one), CROCODILE DUNDEE (number two), and MURIEL'S WEDDING (number three).

The thing that's unclear is what these results tell us. All they tell us is that people think these films represent them. What it doesn't tell us is that every film made in this country, or any other, represent who we are, whether it's a family of criminals in ANIMAL KINGDOM or two impoverished Aboriginal teenagers in SAMSON AND DELILAH or a man driving his car across a post-apocalyptic wasteland in MAD MAX 2.

Films represent who we are and where our society is always, and never do they do this better than when they're not trying to. ERASERHEAD is about who we are and who we were. BREATHLESS is about who we are and who we were. Do you think anyone involved in WALL STREET thought "We need to make a quintessentially 80s film!"? They were just making a film about a guy getting ahead in the financial market. Only in retrospect do we think of it as a perfect summation of the decade. Trying to distill the likes of THE CASTLE and CROCODILE DUNDEE and MURIEL'S WEDDING into a graph that contrives similarities (that will no doubt be fed back into the funding system guidelines) is just a waste of time. Bottom line: no matter what we make, it will reflect who we are. It's unavoidable.

NEWS

"A friend of mine is working in the art department for MAD MAX 4!" I was told, conspiratorially. I was told this during a class at university, and it was ten years nearly to the day since that conversation took place. I was skeptical at the time, but now I'm convinced he was telling the truth, particularly given the bad luck Miller's been having with the film. Given the consistent and escalating reports about hirings and casting, I thought filming was already underway, but no so. According to Miller, the decision to postpone the film by nearly a year is not due to the Australian dollar shooting through the roof -- which caused brief celebrations follows by lengthy Amazon purchases -- but rather unseasonal rains. Apparently, the desert wasteland Miller wanted to shoot in is now a "flower garden". I know the area he's talking about, and I can't begin to imagine Broken Hill with anything approaching vegetation, but Broken Hill residents are welcome to write in and correct me on that. A fascinating piece in ScreenHub says that the rumours around Sydney is that the reason for the delay is actually twofold: one, Warners is unconvinced by Miller's ability to complete post-production on HAPPY FEET 2 as he does pre-production on MAD MAX, as they blame this for the failure of THE OWLS OF THE GUARDIANS OF THE LEGEND OF THE OWLS. (True, many parents I spoke to said they hadn't taken their kids to see it because they were worried Snyder's head had been all up in SUCKER PUNCH during the post-production period.) Two, the budget actually is a concern, with not just the strong Aussie dollar causing grief, but a reported $240 million price tag making them balk. Fascinating if true. Although Miller made the first film on a shoestring, and that was great, so maybe it's time to find a producer with another caravan they don't need...

When I saw news about the MEAA (the Australian actors' union) and the New Zealand Actors' Equity taking issue with the producers of THE HOBBIT three weeks ago, I started to write about it in the previous column, then stopped, figuring it wouldn't turn into anything big. Clearly, my instincts are as finely-honed as they've ever been. The extremely public spat between the MEAA/NZAE and Wingnut Films suddenly went silent in the past week, suggesting negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. If you take into account the uncertainty of MGM's position -- including a sudden, last-minute revised bid for the studio by Lionsgate -- THE HOBBIT's future is looking very unclear. But I'm choosing to remain optimistic, even if all the evidence suggests I should be otherwise.

Recently, someone mentioned to me that Greg McLean was doing WOLF CREEK 2, and did so in such a casual manner, I just assumed I'd missed all the press about it. Then, about a week later, it was news. McLean isn't releasing any information about where or when they'll be filming, but John Jarratt will indeed be back, and that's pretty much all we know.

Mark Hartley's remake of PATRICK has been on the cards for some time, and it's apt given Hartley was the one who reminded everyone PATRICK existed, in his documentary NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. The film is part of the Melbourne International Film Festival premiere fund, and is funded alongside SWERVE (directed by BLACK AND WHITE's Craig Lahiff), documentary AUTOLUMINESCENT: ROWLAND S. HOWARD, Khoa Do's FALLING FOR SAHARA, and FALLING FOR FAGIN, a doco about Australian convict Ikey Soloman, who inspired Dickens's infamous "Oliver Twist" character.

I'll be finally catching up with the non-operatic Australian film THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO in the coming weeks, but if you want to beat me to the punch, you can download it via the iTunes store by clicking here. The DVD will be released in November.

The massive Melbourne Central City Studios has been officially rebranded as the Docklands Studios Melbourne, which led to a wave of film commentators across the country saying, "Oh, I thought it was already called that." Which is probably why they're making the change. In fact, it's definitely why they're making the change, according to the Studios' CEO Rod Allan, who said that, "Now is the right time to formally adopt the Studio's commonly used name, which is widely accepted in the industry. Docklands Studios Melbourne is easy to remember and emphasises our unique and highly attractive location." The Victorian Government, which is currently rocketing towards an election in the coming weeks, has announced a $10 million investment into more infrastructure at the studio.

AICN-Downunder's Follow Friday: (Drop me a line if there are any upcoming 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

2010 Inside Film Awards

Despite writing the occasional article for Inside Film, I am yet to be nominated in any of the categories. That's gratitude for you. Okay, I haven't done anything that necessarily qualifies, but a Best Actress or Best Mini-series nomination sure wouldn't have gone astray. Anyway, the nominations were announced the other day with nominations for Best Script going to David Michod for ANIMAL KINGDOM, Jan Sardi for MAO'S LAST DANCER and Stuart Beattie for TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN; Best Director nominations went to Bruce Beresford for MAO'S LAST DANCER, David Michod for ANIMAL KINGDOM, Jeremy Sims for BENEATH HILL 60 and Rachel Parkins for BRAN NUE DAE; Best Actress nominations to Caitlin Stasey for TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, Jacki Weaver for ANIMAL KINGDOM, Joan Chen for MAO'S LAST DANCER and Radha Mitchell for THE WAITING CITY; Best Actor to Ben Mendelsohn for ANIMAL KINGDOM, Chia Cao for MAO'S LAST DANCER, Deniz Akdeniz for TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, and Joel Edgerton for THE WAITING CITY; Best Feature Film will be a tussle between ANIMAL KINGDOM, BENEATH HILL 60, MAO'S LAST DANCER and TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN. Winners will be announced on November 14, and we will of course have those listed for you. But not until after the event.

2010 Festival of Jewish Cinema

As an Australia, a Jew, and a film geek, you'd think a Jewish film festival in Australia would be right up my alley, wouldn't you? You'd be right. This year's festival includes opening night film THE NAMES OF LOVE (which played at Cannes earlier this year), WITHIN THE WHIRLWIND (starring Emily Watson and directed by ANTONIA'S LINE's Marleen Gorris), HOLY ROLLERS (a huge hit at Sundance, starring SOCIAL NETWORK's Jesse Eisenberg), LOVE AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE PURSUITS (starring Natalie Portman, Lauren Ambrose, Lisa Kudrow and directed by Don Roos), and many others. The festival runs in Melbourne from November 9-30, and in Sydney from November 10-29. Time and venue details can be found on the website at www.jewishfilmfestival.com.au.

SUMMER CODA Melbourne Q&A

Okay, so I know the director, my girlfriend is the film's publicist, and I'm even friends with the moderator, but don't let that overwhelming opportunity for bias cloud your judgment: the Melbourne Q&A session for SUMMER CODA takes place next Thursday, with Cinema Autopsy's Thomas Caldwell interviewing writer/director Richard Gray and stars Alex Dimitriadis and Angus Sampson, following a screening of the film. Which -- biases aside -- is excellent. (Since I've got you here, check out the new trailer for the film here.)

TRON Night: Australia

Aussies wanting to be part of this TRON Night event thing can win tickets somehow! Victorians go to www.villagecinemas.com.au. Queenslanders, South Australians, Western Australians and New South Welshmen need to check out www.hoyts.com.au or www.facebook.com/EventCinemas.

THE REEF at Leicester Square

I don't know how many UK readers I have, but if you're near Leicester Square on October 30, you're going to want to pop down to Empire Cinema to see a line-up of seven world/UK premieres, sneak previews, and a "retro classic". Amidst their premieres is THE REEF. Although I'd appreciate if you all picketed the screening in protest of the fact that there are people in the world who get to see this before me, I wouldn't blame you if you instead bought tickets and checked out this brilliant-looking horror from the makers of BLACK WATER.

BOX OFFICE

Never have I been so acutely aware of how non-influential I am to the process than when I look at these lists. Seriously? All the great films out there, and this is what people are eager to see? And in case any key distributors, publicists, or production companies are reading this, I was kidding in that first sentence, I am very influential, keep giving me free stuff. Phew. Late save.

Australia

1. EAT PRAY LOVE
2. DESPICABLE ME
3. LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE
4. DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS
5. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS
6. THE LAST AIRBENDER
7. BURIED
8. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID
9. CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE
10. EASY A

New Zealand

1. DESPICABLE ME
2. THE LAST AIRBENDER
3. CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE
4. THE OTHER GUYS
5. LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE
6. DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS
7. VAMPIRES SUCK
8. THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE
9. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID
10. WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS

RELEASED THESE PAST THREE WEEKS

A most upsetting sequel to THE BURROWERS, Amanda Seyfried gets her hooker on, the Ivory industry flounders without its Merchents, this remake of DINNER LE CONS has no le pros, had "PRAY" been "PREY" I might have seen it, a documentary about a mentally-ill classical pianist burns the box office down, more people will unfortunately see this, Zack Snyder pussies out of a three-tiered title, the worth of this remake will be debated forever more, it's another comedy with no jokes in it!, every kids' book series will eventually be made into a film, someone thankfully confined Paul WS Anderson to a single franchise, I was genuinely disappointed to find this film wasn't about Carl, Ben Affleck discovers the Boston accent plugin for Final Draft, Charlotte Gainsburg has yet another inappropriate relationship with a tree, and people who pay money to see this film should be deported.

BURIED (AUS/NZ)
CHLOE (AUS)
THE CITY OF YOUR FINAL DESTINATION (AUS)
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (AUS/NZ)
EAT PRAY LOVE (AUS/NZ)
GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD (AUS)
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK (AUS)
LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE (AUS/NZ)
LET ME IN (AUS)
THE OTHER GUYS (NZ)
RAMONA AND BEEZUS (NZ)
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (AUS)
SAGAN (AUS)
THE TOWN (AUS/NZ)
THE TREE (AUS)
VAMPIRES SUCK (NZ)

REVIEWS

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Australian release: October 28 // New Zealand release: November 11

Raised expectations are a tricky thing. Although it's good to go in with a positive attitude, if you're loaded with certain expectations, the film has to do overtime to surprise you. Now imagine your raised expectations are so high that you're anticipating a perfect film that will rank amongst the best of the year. Almost no film can withstand that sort of pressure.

Except THE SOCIAL NETWORK. The screenplay by Aaron Sorkin ranks with his best work, which is the highest compliment I can give. I've often suggested Sorkin was a modern day Shakespeare, which on the surface may seem like a trite and lazy comparison, but I feel it's an apt one. Shakespeare wrote works that reflected the major issues of the day -- which, at that time, usually involved wars and royalty -- whilst exploring complex emotions and relatable situations, doing so in a prose that leaves you stunned in its tracks. Now look at what Sorkin has done here: one year ago, everyone was making jokes about what a Facebook movie would look like, that it would be some sort of embarrassing nonsense steeped in tween-speak and flash-in-the-pan pop-culture references. Now it's probably going to win an Oscar. Sorkin has taken something we all know and all talk about, and used it to delve into the recesses of our collective psyches, exploring jealousy and status and friendship and loneliness, and doing so using sharp, clever, cutting dialogue that puts nearly everything else out there to deep shame.

Aaron Sorkin is, if you've not worked it out by now, one of my favourite working writers, and probably the only guy who could jump the queue in my review to beat David Fincher. Fincher's ability to draw out the substance of a film and recognise it visually is unparalleled. At first, the mix of Sorkin and Fincher threw me, but the more I thought about it (leading up to the viewing of the film), the more it made sense. The issue of identity and cultural disassociation is as strong a theme here as it is in SE7EN or FIGHT CLUB, albeit told in a completely different way, and Fincher extracts every bead of sweat from the body of the script and displays it with unnerving skill.

The performances are extraordinary, from Jesse Eisenberg's socially-inept Zuckerman to Armie Hamer's dual performance as Harvard crewing twins. Andrew Garfield is the heart of the film as the most relatable character in the entire film, and Justin Timberlake fulfills the promise he showed in BLACK SNAKE MOAN.

The score, too, is brilliant. Trent Reznor was the wild card for me. Much as I like his stuff, I'm always nervous when musicians make the transition to film scores. Of course, Fincher was using the same judgment he had when he corralled the Dust Brothers into their pitch-perfect FIGHT CLUB score, and Reznor delivers a similarly tone-perfect score that stands on its own whilst simultaneously enhancing what's on the screen.

There is no point at which SOCIAL NETWORK falls off the map. It doesn't steep itself in off-putting Facebook jargon, but nor does it ignore it, bringing in small elements -- relationship status, or the adding of a friend -- to help colour the main themes of the film: a deep personal loneliness only intensified by a new social experience. A contender for the best film of the year.

LET ME IN

Australian release: October 14 // New Zealand release: December 2

My concerns with this remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN stemmed not from the fact that it was remaking a fantastic film; for one, I've long since stopped caring about remakes, and for two, as much as I love the first film I don't quite think it's the world-changing genre event so many others do. No, my concerns stemmed from director Matt Reeves's previous film, CLOVERFIELD, which more and more I feel was a failure. I didn't necessarily think it was a bad film, as some moments were quite effective, but it set itself up to be a mockumentary, the entire film revolved around this conceit, and it failed completely to work on that, its primary level. There are always multiple factors involved when a film doesn't work, but that was one instance where I felt the blame could be laid squarely at the feet of Reeves.

So, how would he handle a film that, if it is to work, needs not just subtlety, but more subtlety than its original? The answer is a positive one. Reeves takes a very even-handed approach to the material, and excels when he takes matters into his own hands. Oddly, the film suffers most when it apes its predecessor; the attempt to ape moments from the first film do not work as well as sequences that appear to stem directly from Reeves himself.

It's odd how this film plays as a remake. In some instances, it makes sweeping changes to characters, including some and excluding others. In other places, it is indistinguishable from the Swedish original, echoing framing in a too-deliberate throwback. These moments are disappointing, because the underline the lack of necessity for this remake. If it's identical, why do we need two? The film makes a case for its own existence when it branches out into unique, original scenes. (Many of these moments may indeed be from the book that both of these films are based on, but having not read it, I cannot speak to that.)

It's strange that, given how much these two films echo one another, their strengths are entirely different. LET ME IN is more obvious or more restrained depending on where you're looking, and so sweeping statements and overall conclusions are all the more difficult to come to.

Some strengths, however, are consistent throughout: Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz are perfect as Owen and Abby respectively, and it's in this casting that the film excels. Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas are very good, as is Dylan Minnette as the bully, although, like in the original, this part is played a bit too arch.

Aside from a frustratingly-common and irrelevant narrative device (ie: beginning with a flashforward that takes place in the middle of the film), the film is largely a success. Its questionable morals are both disturbing and admirable, and even a lingering question as to what the point of the whole thing was doesn't spoil the experience.

THE TOWN

Australian/New Zealand release: October 14

It's very difficult to review THE TOWN without acknowledging the overwhelming praise it's been receiving from all quarters, and it's even more difficult to ascertain whether that praise has affected my own opinion. Certainly, THE TOWN is very, very good, with great characters, an original spin on a classic setup, and some really superb action set pieces, but does it really work as a whole? Where does it stand when held up against the epic crime films to which it clearly aspires?

The angle is a good one. Boston's Charlestown has produced more bank robbers than any other place on Earth, and though this statistic becomes less impressive the more you think about how statistics like this work, it's still a killer way to start a film. Who are these guys, and what sort of environment did they grow up in? How does the police react to overwhelming crime? What is this culture like? The film doesn't really touch upon the depths it suggests, although a great deal of time is spent examining these characters' histories.

The script, however, seems all-too-aware of its crime brethren like HEAT and THE DEPARTED. Most characters are given speeches filled with gritty metaphors and tough guy posturing, almost as if crafted for a talk show appearance or an Oscars clip. These speeches are frequently unprompted, as are many of the film's contrivances: the relationship between Ben Affleck (really solid in the lead role) and Rebecca Hall (at once lovely and damaged, as the character demands) is understandable, but a little forced, and lacks the inevitability of, say, the similar one in THE DEPARTED. As for the ending, it is -- without going into specifics -- cribbed in equal parts from THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and TRAFFIC, yet is oddly unsatisfying.

Though the elements are all there, there lacks a central moral quandary to tie the whole thing together. Affleck's character is supposed to be the morally-conflicted heart of the film, yet his reasons for getting in, his reasons for getting out, and the whole question of what his position is in the world is left unanswered. And it's only notable because the film keeps leading us there.

I've spent most of the review being negative, which is the inevitable effect of its positive reviews. It's DARK KNIGHT syndrome: even though DK was one of my favourite films of that year, I always find myself arguing against it because people keep telling me how flawless and perfect it is. It's the same here. THE TOWN is a superb crime film, a cut above nearly all the others, but because it veers so close to greatness, the elements that keep it from achieving it are all the more apparent.

FAIR GAME

Australian release: November 25 // New Zealand release: February 10

I was captivated by the Valerie Plame affair when it was in the news, so much so that I thought I'd misunderstood it: if Bill Clinton could be indicted for a stupid but meaningless sex scandal, surely the revealing of classified information to crush those in opposition would bring the Bush administration down, right?

FAIR GAME addresses this, though not exactly in those terms, with the incredulity at the administration's hubris constantly bubbling away below the surface. Although I went in hoping for some really satisfying moral outrage, the film is a lot calmer than that (even if Sean Penn's Joe Wilson is not). Scooter Libby is not exactly a complex, sympathetic character, but nor is he a complete moustache-twirling villain: his reasons for twisting the evidence to point towards a need to invade Iraq are understandable, if not relatable.

Sorry, I launched into that pretty quickly. I'll back up a bit: if you don't know the background to this story, if you've never heard of Scooty Libby or Joe Wilson or Valerie Plame or, hell, Saddam Hussein, then read up on it, either before or after you see the film. It's a crazy story, and certainly one that justified a film like this.

Doug Liman is an erratic director, and it's hard to get a real sense of his style. Although he did a great job of laying the stylistic groundwork for the BOURNE films, here his roving camera is more distracting than anything; rather than giving us a first-hand in-the-room feeling, it is Brechtian in its ability to pull us out of the film. I don't think that was intentional. Everything else Liman does in this film is excellent, even when the script slips from a drama about a family dealing with circumstances they never expected, and lapses into Hollywood Moments that just don't ring true.

The highlight of the film is Naomi Watts, who is amazing as Plame. As with her performance in MOTHER AND CHILD, she can play a certain level of frigidity without ever putting the audience off. It's a very tricky balancing act to pull off, particularly with a lead character, but Watts has managed it twice this year. (Also see Rachael Taylor in SUMMER CODA as another example of how to nail this seeming contradiction.)

It would have been great to see, say, the Sorkin/Soderbergh take on this film, but as it stands, FAIR GAME is a very good telling of one of the most remarkable moments in recent American history.

WINTER'S BONE

Australian/New Zealand release: October 28

Where the hell did this film spring from? In an age where movie news and reviews are all-pervasive before the release dates and media feels consumed before it's even been finished, it's always a shock to come across something fully-formed with no preconceived notions about it whatsoever. This film is a breath of fresh air, but it's also a kick in the guts, which would wind you and send the fresh air back where it came from. Consider this first paragraph a strong, unconditional recommendation for those who haven't seen it. For if you haven't seen it, I'm about to go into some detail about things that happen towards the end, so you might want to skip to the next review.

This film -- directed by Debra Granik, and written by Granik and Anne Rosellini from a novel by Daniel Woodrell -- feels like a 21st century TRUE GRIT, which will make things very interesting when the Coen Brothers' take on TRUE GRIT comes out. This story of a seventeen year old girl trying to track down her father in their remote Ozark Mountains community. "Community" doesn't begin to cover it: the codes between families and acquaintances are a complex ecosystem almost impenetrable to the outsider. The temptation with films such as this one is to play it as a fish-out-of-water story, with a city slicker trying to understand the ways of the people as he or she stumbles through the terrain, always the avatar for the audience. There's something deeply refreshing about the lack of that. Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) understands the way her world works, and the drama comes from the ways in which she chooses to break the rules, not from some error or failure of applicable logic.

It's not until late in the game that it becomes apparent what this film is really about: Ree's search for her father leads her not to the drug-dealing bail runout she's looking for, but to someone entirely different. "Blood" is the catchcry of Ree as she tries to persuade everyone she comes across -- who are all, by her reasoning, related to her somehow and therefore beholden to help -- and it's blood she finds. Teardrop, her father's brother, is a menacing figure at first, and this is not at odds with the role he will eventually fulfill: that of her father. The decisive act is when he takes responsibility for her at a key moment, the first adult to properly do so. The trust builds, but the denouement comes not in the climactic revelation of the film's maguffin, but with a heartbreaking scene that nobody inside of it recognises as the devastating act that it is. Teardrop presents two living souls to be taken care of, young in their life, before taking off again. It's the exact same act of fatherhood Ree saw in her own life, and it's the same she's seeing in her friend Gail's. The failure to recognise the repetition of history speaks to its systemic nature, and deals a more powerful blow than the viscerally-remarkable scene on the boat.

This is a film that creeps up on you, and gets every measured moment right. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a pitch-perfect performance, as does "Deadwood"'s John Hawkes as Teardrop. A remarkable work that builds the more you think about it, and one of the year's best.

MADE IN DAGENHAM

Australian/New Zealand release: October 28

The last time I saw Sally Hawkins and Daniel Mays interacting on a council estate, it was Mike Leigh's superb 2002 film ALL OR NOTHING, and neither was playing a particularly likable character. In MADE IN DAGENHAM, they are opposite ends of the scale: still flawed and interesting, but now endearing and, well, far more pleasant.

MADE IN DAGENHAM follows a key period of British history in which the one hundred and eighty-seven female workers of Ford's Dagenham factory began campaigning for better wages. Sally Hawkins is the young mother thrust suddenly into the centre of the proceedings, and she plays the role with her usual brilliant, magnetic, even-if-this-film-sucked-it-would-be-worth-it-for-her style of thesping. The supporting cast also steps up, with Daniel Mays, Miranda Richardson, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike and Richard Schiff (yes, that Richard Schiff) giving typically solid work.

Without wanting to suggest this is a Hollywoodised, sugar-coated account, it's certainly a crowd-pleaser. The harsher moments are not shied away from, but it would be a definition stretched to breaking point to refer to this as Gritty Social Realism. Those who are turned off by the idea of dramas set in UK industrial town social estates in 1968 will still get a huge kick out of this film. Buttons are pushed in just the right way, and Hawkins -- for this can't be emphasised enough -- remains one of the most engaging actors working today.

BURIED

Australian/New Zealand release: October 7

There are few things I love more than a low-scale high-concept film. A man trapped in a coffin for ninety minutes? I'm sold. The problem with high concept films such as these is that they invariably drop the ball, abandoning the original idea for a safer, easier third act (chase scenes, gun fights, etc). Although I didn't expect those specific things, I was concerned that there would be some sort of cop out, or that they'd fail to maintain any sort of dramatic tension.

My concerns were unnecessary. BURIED is an exceedingly clever film that is perfectly balanced in every way. Although the basic setup of the character's background is an interesting addition -- rather than being an everyman who wakes up in a coffin, he is a truck driver in Iraq whose convoy was attacked -- every element that is introduced to keep the story moving is inevitable. This is not a bad thing: a confined story like this almost needs a checklist of things to accomplish, and part of the fun is seeing the list getting ticked.

This is a film it's almost impossible to discuss without giving the whole thing away, and beyond the setup there is absolutely nothing you need to know going in. This is the best Ryan Reynolds has ever been, and the fact that he completely sustains our interest and emotions for the running time is an enormous testament to his performance. The script by Chris Sparling is every bit as tight and surprising as it needs to be. Rodrigo Cortés's direction is brilliant; both his control of pace and his superb shooting style prevent it from ever coming close to stale.

The claustrophobic amongst you will be unable to sit through it, which is largely the point, but everyone should check out this taut, clever, extraordinary film.

COPACABANA

Australian release: November 18 // New Zealand release: TBA

(Disclosure: my partner is the Publicity Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that is co-distributing COPACABANA.)

This is probably the least well known of the films reviewed in this column, which is a shame, as it's easily one of the best. COPACABANA is a French film about a carefree middle-aged woman who, after embarrassing her soon-to-be-married daughter, is forbidden from attending the wedding. Hurt but determined, she sets off to prove herself by working in a remote Belgian seaside town, selling timeshares to tourists.

The always-amazing Isabelle Hupert strips away her familiar ice queen exterior to play the untethered Babou, and her performance is nothing short of brilliant. Her on-screen daughter is played superbly by her real-life daughter, Lolita Chammah, and Aure Atika (MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON) is perfect as Babou's boss.

The script and direction by Mark Fitoussi is understated but never static. Our attention is kept even when it feints inertia. It is a character piece in the best sense of the term; clichés are studiously avoided, and every character is a developed, fascinating person unto themselves. Everyone is flawed and redemptive at once, leaving the audience almost shocked by the sheer depth that everyone who appears -- be it in a main role or a fleeting one -- possesses.

This is the film so many stoic French films aspire to be, emotionally-powerful though constantly surprising and delightful to watch.

DVD REVIEWS

KENNY (August 31, Region 4)

The film: Despite it being one of the most popular Australian films of the last decade, it took me until its Blu-ray release to finally catch up with it. KENNY is a mockumentary about a well-meaning Australian toilet cleaner, and at the time of its release that description managed to be both refreshing -- in that it wasn't another po-faced drama about people yelling at each other in the outback -- and worryingly familiar -- in that it seemed to be another self-consciously quirky comedy that would trip over itself trying to be wacky. My concerns were unfounded: KENNY is a genuinely funny film that avoids all the pitfalls I suspected it would fall into. Kenny himself is an endearingly well-meaning figure, and his relative innocence is never overplayed: you never once wonder how he survives in the world, or how he rose to the position of supervisor. It's all very well played. The film does lack a forward momentum, though, and you could shave ten to fifteen minutes from it and not miss them. That said, one of my biggest bugbears with mockumentaries is that they don't follow the rules of the documentary; KENNY flaunts this, with the camera appearing in places it otherwise shouldn't, or is seemingly invisible to others in the world, yet the tone is so cleverly handled that this didn't both me. It's not the classic it's claimed to be, but it is a very welcome and frequently funny film that is worth checking out.

The extras: They've pulled out all the stops with this release: there's deleted scenes, three bonus short films by Clayton Jacobson (the film's writer/director) and the theatrical trailer. There's a round-table commentary and an "in-depth" commentary with just Clayton Jacobson. There's a Making Of and a Behind The Scenes. You won't be left wanting.

Should you buy it: If you haven't seen it, I'd rent it first, 'cos as much as I liked this film, it sure as hell won't be for everyone. But if you do already like it, this is a pretty impressive package.

CONFIDENTIAL REPORT (September 13, Region 4)

The film: His reputation is focused on the successes of his career, but Orson Welles faced disasters that would make even Terry Gilliam blanche. Few productions were as troubled as CONFIDENTIAL REPORT, which generally goes by the title MR ARKADIN. There are five different edits of the film, three of which are included on Criterion's region one box set. CONFIDENTIAL REPORT is the name given to the most controversial of cuts, the one Welles was least happy with, and I suspect its copyright-free status is the reason we're getting this version. Still, butchered Welles can't hide the man's brilliance. CONFIDENTIAL REPORT may be a flawed piece, particularly in its execution, but its ideas, its scope, its pure ambition is what makes this film work. It's amazing in so many ways, and were it a bit more polished, it would be every bit the classic that THE THIRD MAN -- which actually inspired the film in the first place -- is. (Back in 2008, myself and Shannon Marinko -- my co-host on The Bazura Project -- introduced CONFIDENTIAL REPORT as part of Channel 31's Saturday Night Cult Movies. Check out the intro here!)

The extras: A typically-engaging academic commentary from Monash University's Dr Brian McFarlane (one of my favourite of Madman's Directors Suite commentators), plus a brilliant essay in booklet form by Welles expert Jonathan Rosenbaum. This combination of textual academia and process academia appeals to me completely, and is put to perfect use with this film. But these aren't even the best extras. The highlight of the package is the inclusion of ORSON WELLES' GHOST STORY (RETURN TO GLENASCAUL), a short film featuring (but not directed by) Welles. He plays himself, on break from filming MACBETH, chancing upon a man who tells him a ghost story. It's a fun but familiar tale -- which, incidentally, won an Oscar -- and a really novel inclusion here.

Should you buy it: It's not the most comprehensive edition of this film, but aware that the sort of film geek who would want to buy this would also know how to use Amazon, Madman has loaded this with some pretty tantalising exclusive extras. It's one you have to pick up if you're a Welles fan, and why the hell wouldn't you be?

IMMORTAL STORY (September 13, Region 4)

The film: Continuing the Welles back catalogue is IMMORTAL STORY, his 1967 film about manipulation and storytelling. With its one hour running time, I suspected it would feel like a streamlined feature, but structurally it plays more like an extended short. Welles plays a rich old merchant obsessed with making an urban legend come to life. The concept characters aware they're players in a larger story is a fascinating one, especially decades before the likes of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD and ADAPTATION. Its ambition is smaller than CONFIDENTIAL REPORT, though no less impressive, and every moment is permeated by Welles's undeniable genius, tangible and not theoretical.

The extras:I love a good double-up on my academia. Like CONFIDENTIAL REPORT, this disc features a commentary and an essay. The commentary is by Dr Adrian Martin, and the essay (presented in a beautiful booklet) is by Dr Adrian Danks. There is also, curiously, a French language edit of the film. Not just an alternate language track, but an entirely different movie included on the disc in French only.

Should you buy it:I doubt there's a strong element of re-watchability to it, but I can see myself revisiting it in the future. Definitely one for the Welles scholars.

NEXT WEEK

- Inspired by Joaquin Phoenix's revelations, Gerard Butler admits his success has also been a hoax, and promises to return to obscurity soon

- The head of Viacom greenlights a film in which he seduces Zooey Deschanel in (500) DAYS OF SUMNER

- Not content with remaking LET THE RIGHT ONE IN for US audiences, Hammer Films fashions another version designed purely for country music fans with LET THE DWIGHT YOAKUM

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback

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  • Oct. 15, 2010, 11:45 a.m. CST

    Convicts

    by Jazzmaverickjim

    the lot of ya

  • Oct. 15, 2010, 5:40 p.m. CST

    puritans

    by Monkey Butler

    the lot of ya

  • Oct. 15, 2010, 7:11 p.m. CST

    Cracking opening op-ed paragraph, sir.

    by Wonder Man

    Totally agree. Middle Australia continues to live under this bizarre delusion th at we're all garish little Aussie battlers when not only is that stereotype as false as often as it rings true, but - as you say - every film is about society, humanity, in some way, spoken in the idiom of the particular nation from which it sprung. I've met people in real life who seem to have emerged straight out of THE CASTLE, ANIMAL KINGDOM, LOVE AND OTHER CATASTROPHIES and even, uh, TROJAN WARRIOR. For better or worse, they're ALL about us. That's what art & entertainment is. Oh, and the rest of the article ain't so bad, either! ;)

  • Oct. 15, 2010, 7:15 p.m. CST

    Scientologists

    by BadMrWonka

    oh wait. I thought we were just filling subject lines with people that have made the world shittier.

  • Oct. 15, 2010, 7:16 p.m. CST

    Mormons

    by BadMrWonka

    OK, I'm done.

  • Oct. 16, 2010, 3:22 a.m. CST

    Hobbit

    by Latauro

    Thank you kindly, Wonder Man. <BR><BR> By the way, I always love writing saying something along the lines of "Well, the Hobbit isn't in good condition" mere hours before news of its greenlight comes through! However, I can live with my embarrassment, consoled as I am by the fact that Peter Jackson is directing two Hobbit films. Seriously over the moon about that!

  • Oct. 18, 2010, 9:14 a.m. CST

    Agreed Latauro.

    by raw_bean

    And don't worry, your excellent reviews and engaging prose make up for your lackadaisical proof-reading and utter failure as a psychic. :P