AICN-Downunder: SOMEWHERE, TANGLED, DEVIL, MORNING GLORY, THE HORSEMAN, NAUSICAA and more!
Frankly, I'm too scared to ask about the frog.
It occurred to me the other day that if your only exposure to Australian and New Zealand film criticism is this column, then you're really not getting the best of it. I serve a purpose, but it's high time I directed you towards some really amazing cinema articles you really should be reading.
It says a lot that there is far too much great material for me to fit into this piece, so I'm going to limit it to articles that have popped up over the last week or two. I'll start with a great piece by Anthony Morris, who examines why film criticism seems to be such a male-dominated profession. After that, you need to read Simon Miraudo's brilliant piece on why Australian films are more beloved by other countries than our own. This fascinating article by Jess Lomas looks at whether film critics themselves should be doing more to support Australian films, and though I disagree with much (though not all) of her argument, she raises some interesting and important points.
This article by Thomas Caldwell attacks the painfully-outdated (but still ever-present) cliché so many audiences seem to have that Australian films are uniformly depressing, social realist dramas, and it's a must-read. Most of the articles I've linked to are included as part of Scott Henderson's Oz Film Blogathon, which he is hosting on his site. It's a great idea, and he's collected together some really superb articles, all of which are worth checking out.
You've also got to take a look at the likes of Philmology, Liminal Vision, Cinetology, Stale Popcorn, Rich On Film, Why I Adore, as well as In Film Australia, a brilliant film site that is working to build up a collection of every Australian film ever made. All the sites and writers I've linked to are by people who enhance your enjoyment of movies by approaching them from angles you may never have considered. A big part of enjoying films comes from discussing them, and these are among the best discussions going on at the moment.
The cast for THE HOBBIT continues to grow, with Cate Blanchett back on board as Galadriel, and Orlando Bloom rumoured to be in talks to return as Legolas. Naturally, with the book split into two films and plenty of material being plundered from Tolkein's other sources, the story will be markedly different from the one we are used to, explaining why these characters are appearing in a story in which they originally did not. We told you about Sylvester McCoy signing on as Radagast the Brown several weeks ago, but it appears that news has now been confirmed. Also confirmed is the wonderful Scottish actor Ken Stott. With Martin Freeman as Bilbo, McCoy as Radagast, and now Stott as Balin, it's possible this film might be too awesome. Hopefully they'll cast someone bad soon and temper my ever-growing anticipation.
TWO LITTLE BOYS is a new feature that will begin filming in Auckland this January. It stars Hamish Blake (from the Australian comedy duo Hamish and Andy) and Bret McKenzie (from the New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Concords). The film is a comedy about two men dealing with their "imploding long-term friendship", and will be directed by Robert Sarkies from a book by his brother Duncan Sarkies. Seeing Blake team up with McKenzie is a little weird for us in Australasia. It's like seeing Laurel and Costello, or Pete and Wise, or Armstrong and Mitchell. Can we buy two members of a comedy duo cheating on their partners with one another? We'll find out soon.
Actor and filmmaker Kieran Darcy-Smith (who featured in THE SQUARE and ANIMAL KINGDOM) makes his feature directorial debut with SAY NOTHING, a psychological drama/myster that begins shooting this month in December. Joining the already-announced Joel Edgerton is Aussie actress Teresa Palmer (DECEMBER BOYS, THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE). The film follows four friends enjoying a carefree holiday in Cambodia... but only three come back! The film will be released by Hopscotch Films in Australia and New Zealand.
After two consecutive years of brilliant Australian cinema, my thoughts have turned to 2011: will the trend continue? What will be the local film that knocks our socks off next year? It looks like we may have found the first. MAD BASTARDS is about to premiere at the Sydney Festival, and a trailer for the film's premiere screening has debuted online. Cannot wait to see this one.
When I heard the premise for REAL STEEL, I thought "That's really silly". Then I saw the trailer, and I thought "That's really silly". Still, as star Hugh Jackman yells in the trailer: "Let's make some money!" I am willing -- nay, hoping! -- to be pleasantly surprised. Have a look at the trailer for yourself. It has big robots boxing.
Remember THE TUNNEL? It's the Australian horror film that's going to be released via torrent for free next year, with money for the film coming from donations. One dollar from you buys one frame of film, and to date 22 000 frames have been bought up. Unless my maths is failing me -- and it usually does -- that's almost fifteen minutes of footage right there. You should definitely go to the TUNNEL website and buy up some frames. And if you need some enticement, check out the film's trailer, which has just debuted. I think it's looking quite awesome, and I'm very keen to see them succeed at this innovative method of funding.
The worst thing about the Australian film industry usually results in the best thing about it: when aspiring directors, writers and actors can't find money anywhere, they take matters into their own hands and make their own film. Andrew Thatcher, an aspiring martial arts film star, was frustrated that nobody in this country was making the sort of action films he loved, so he set about making his own. The film, CHARITY HURTS, has the wonderfully dubious premise of all local charities being controlled by the mob! Thatcher plays the lead character who must kick and chop his way to the truth, and the trailer for the film can be seen here.
Finally, I'm going to end with a scoop that I will absolutely dine out on if it turns out to be true. A friend of mine spotted Baz Luhrmann being given a tour of the Regent Theatre, with Luhrmann in possession of both an entourage and a notepad. Luhrmann, who is prepping THE GREAT GATSBY, may well have been location scouting, as notes were apparently being furiously scribbled. Could DiCaprio, Maguire and Mulligan be heading to Melbourne to film in the beautiful Regent? If they are, AICN-Downunder is claiming bragging rights.
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, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, the self-explanatory GHOST SHARK 2: URBAN JAWS, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, self-described "womantic comedy" JUCY, the based-on-an-old-Australian-joke LITTLE JOHNNY, brilliant Aussie horror film THE LOVED ONES, self-described "graphic novel-style bushranger adventure film" MOONLITE, giant shark movie THE REEF, the dramatic thriller SAY NOTHING, the extraordinary Aussie doco STRANGE BIRDS IN PARADISE, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant squid movie $QUID, the award-winning box office hit TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, Cannes's closing night film THE TREE, crowdsourcing horror film THE TUNNEL, and genre-defying web series WHERE WERE YOU. And for those still reading, this here is me.
Australian Film Institute Awards
The second half of the AFI awards are on this Saturday night, and presenters will include Willem Dafoe, Joel Edgerton, Shaun Micallef and Fred Schepisi. The first half was on Friday night, and the live-tweeting from the event (which I was reading as I wrote this) suggested host Shane Jacobson did a great job. I won't be there for the Saturday night either (as I will be seeing my father in this show at the Athenaeum -- come see it too!), but it can be seen around Australia on Channel Nine from 9:30pm the same night.
Screen Australia Film Festival Funding
I continue to be both delighted and overwhelmed by the sheer number of film festivals in Australia every year. Aside from the film festivals devoted to every country/language/mannerism, there are even more specialist festivals devoted to gay culture or people with disabilities or, in the case of Tropfest, people who are able to put umbrellas in the backgrounds of shots. According to Inside Film, seven film festivals have missed out on funding from Screen Australia. The agency says it received funding applications forty per cent higher than its $2.3 million budget. Whilst it will fund the likes of Melbourne Cinémateque, the Melbourne International Animation Festival, and the St Kilda Film Festival, festivals such as In The Big Short Film Festival and World of Women Film Festival have lost out. I'm very much on the fence about this: should money go towards festivals that attract the most number of people, or should those festivals rely on their market share? It's the sort of socalism vs free market debate that sends you round in circles when you have a film industry funded and subsidised by the federal government. Either way, I hope the festivals that missed out on ScreenOz funding can find it elsewhere. Check out the IF article for the full story.
2011 Sundance Film Festival
Ariel Kleiman's DEEPER THAN YESTERDAY has been selected for competition in the International Shorts Competition Program at Sundance next year. This follows the Australian short's successes around the world, from winning the Jury Award for Best Short Film at the Critics' Week in Cannes, the Best Short at the Chicago International Film Festival, and the Best Short Film Director Dendy Award at the Sydney Film Festival. Meanwhile, Aussie feature MAD BASTARDS and feature doco SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE will also play in competition this coming January. American feature film HERE, scripted by Melbourne-based Dani Valent, will play in the US Dramatic Competition program.
83rd Academy Awards
Let's face it, it's not an Oscars ceremony unless an Australian animated short is in contention. We've had the likes of HARVIE KRUMPET and THE MYSTERIOUS GEOGRAPHIC EXPLORATIONS OF JASPER MORELLO, and now THE LOST THING. Although the film has not been nominated yet, it is one of ten films pre-selected for the category, which must be very exciting news for directors Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann. Check out my review of the DVD, which has just come out in Australia, below.
The Australia Day Council has commissioned two minute films from across the country, asking "What is the Reel Australia"? I haven't been through all fifty entries, but I was sent a direct link to BE A MAN, a terrific animated short by one of Australia's most prolific animators, David Blumenstein. Take your time to go through the entries here.
HARRY POTTER gets solid reviews and NARNIA gets poor reviews, and both dominate the box office. People sure love their book-based fantasy franchises, don't they? Sadly, one of my favourite films of the year (the terrific RED HILL) is not here. Very disappointing. It's ten times more fun than DUE DATE and DEVIL put together, what the hell are you doing, people? Sigh. In other news, I appear to have reviewed practically everything in the top ten(s) this fortnight, so click on the links and check out my thoughts on each.
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE
2. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER
3. DUE DATE
6. FAIR GAME
7. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
8. JACKASS 3D
9. THE LAST EXORCISM
1. HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART ONE
2. EASY A
3. DUE DATE
6. THE SOCIAL NETWORK
8. THE AMERICAN
9. MADE IN DAGENHAM
It's the series that just won't die, the twist is that "Devil" has the word "Evil" in it, another classic piece of literature gets the US high school treatment, anyone who misses this film is insane, it didn't take them very long to remake DESPICABLE ME, this is how you do a monster movie, this is how you do a Christmas movie, this is how you do a crappy movie (so I'm told), this looks like the worst of the Jennifer Aniston sperm-based comedies, and China continues its relentless remaking of American films.
THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER (AUS/NZ)
EASY A (NZ)
RARE EXPORTS (AUS/NZ)
THE SWITCH (NZ)
A WOMAN, A GUN, AND A NOODLE SHOP (NZ)
Australian release: December 26 // New Zealand release: December 16
I sometimes wonder if people would be more impressed with Sofia Coppola if it weren't for the weight of expectations that her family's absurd amount of accomplishments have burdened her with. If she wasn't a Coppola, would we be more amazed at the extraordinary films she's made? I think so, because for my money she's four for four.
If you thought MARIE ANTOINETTE divided critical opinion, wait until you see SOMEWHERE. This sombre observational piece is perhaps the closest we've got to seeing inside Coppola's head, with established filmmaking artifices stripped away. It distills the themes of her previous work -- disaffected people looking at society through their prism of near-complete disassociation -- and presents them in pure, unfettered form. In fact, there is practically nothing going on in SOMEWHERE aside from this theme. This ambition would either result in a disaster or wild success depending on the skill of the filmmaker.
It's this that will divide people. A case could very easily be made for why the film is a disaster, and despite the fact that I utterly adored it, I could even make that case myself. The film, however, is pitched at one specific level, and it hits that level perfectly. Stephen Dorff is extraordinary as movie star Johnny Marco, and his casting is deliberately wrong-footing. Dorff is not the movie star that Marco is, and this unconventional misuse of Dorff's baggage (or lack of baggage) gives the proceedings an extra layer of disconnect. Had the likes of Brad Pitt or even Coppola's cousin Nicolas Cage been put in the role, it would have worked, but in a very different and somewhat more obvious way; Dorff's simultaneous and contradictory fame and obscurity makes him the better choice. He plays every scene with a mixture of charm and fear, confusion and complicity, sincerity and insincerity. The character, as written and directed and performed, is amazing.
Elle Fanning is perfect as Dorff's daughter, her performance so naturalistic that much of it must surely have been improvised. In all of Coppola's films, the disconnected lead has been searching for something real, and as in LOST IN TRANSLATION, it is clear what that real and centering thing is. Fanning's Cleo is the thing Marco is searching for, but the film's success comes in watching Marco search for it as she is in front of him, hiding in plain sight.
What I really want to do here is explore all of the film's clues, from the mysterious opening sequence to the repeated text messages to that ending. I want to discuss the surreal press conference, or look at Coppola's enduring fascination with characters thrust into a strange foreign country with no stablising reference. To do that would require not only thousands upon thousands of words, but also multiple viewings of the film. It is primed for future debates and essays.
As I said at the beginning, it will divide audiences and critics alike, but SOMEWHERE is a tempered, consistently engaging, lyrical and allegorical work of art. It is the most revealing of her films, and will surely be the navigation point used when discussing her work from hereon in.
(Note: If you're not already listening to my podcast Hell Is For Hyphenates, now is the time to subscribe. In our October edition, we took a comprehensive look at the films and career of Sofia Coppola, SOMEWHERE included. Have a listen via the website or on iTunes!)
Australian/New Zealand release: January 6
The Disney canon always felt like an unfinished work to me. I don't know if it was Walt's intention or not, but as a child I believed that every fairytale -- at least, the ones I considered "grown-up" ones, which usually ended in a member of royalty getting married -- would be put through the Disney filter. It had always felt odd that certain tales had been left untouched, and the most glaringly obvious in my eyes was Rapunzel.
I didn't really hold out hope that they would eventually cover it, at least not in the past few years. Animation had long moved on from the archaic fairytale storytelling device, and it was only employed as a post-modern, pop-culture ridden "twist" on the Disney formula with the likes of SHREK. Modern animated films were about cars or toys or bugs or groups of animals, and Disney gave the impression that it was being left behind. It was the Elder Statesman of animation, unable to use its history in any meaningful way, but failing terribly whenever it tried to ape the "hip" successes of rival studios. I would make a reference to HOME ON THE RANGE right now, but, like you, I didn't see it.
I don't know what happened to get us to TANGLED. (Keep in mind that I unfortunately missed THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, which, by all accounts was good, but for the purposes of this review will be necessarily ignored.) A company past its prime, an out-of-date unhip concept, and competition from not just other studios, but one of its own. How did TANGLED happen?
You see, TANGLED is possibly my favourite Disney animated film. Of all time. No, I am not kidding. I don't count the Pixars, of course, which have a style unto themselves, and there's some serious competition from 1951's ALICE IN WONDERLAND (which I'll come back to later), but TANGLED beats the others with a stick. Heresy it may be, but hear me out...
I always really, really liked Disney movies, but the problem was that I loved Warner Bros cartoon. Bugs and co appealed to me in a way that Disney couldn't. Bugs was like Groucho Marx, and as both of those characters not-coincidentally formed integral parts of my childhood, Bugs was heads, shoulder and ears above the likes of Mickey. Mickey's overearnestness could never compete with Bugs's wry wit. There was a real edge to Looney Tunes, and that edge was strangely lacking in both the shorts and the features from Disney.
I had plenty of time for both. ALICE IN WONDERLAND, ROBIN HOOD, SNOW WHITE, and the mind-bending FANTASIA also formed important parts of my childhood, and I still love them all to this day. Of those, only ALICE really captured that edge that Looney Tunes had. It was like a Disney character had fallen down a rabbit hole into the Looney Tunes world, and the excitement came from watching those two sensibilities collide.
TANGLED feels like a Disney character has fallen out of her tower into a Pixar world. This is a classic fairytale story, but it has an edge that the likes of CINDERELLA (which I really like) and SLEEPING BEAUTY (ditto) do not. That edge does not, thankfully, manifest itself as anachronistic pop culture references, comedy "personalities" in painful cameos, or every second jokes being "one for the parents". TANGLED is much cleverer than that.
It is traditional in the sense that it is a telling of a classic fairy princess story, adhering to the Disney versions of these tales with their beautiful castles and green lands and everybody bursting intermittently into song. It feels modern not just because of its 3D computer animation (one of the better uses of 3D, I have to say), but because its strong character, dialogue, and storytelling methods. Every moment propels story and character forward, every element is thematically strong. The inevitable cute animal sidekicks are genuinely engaging and have a real role to play.
Most importantly, the character of Rapunzel is insanely likeable and engaging. She's not some painfully post-modern female-empowerment character shoehorned into a world she doesn't fit in (although the use of the skillet as a weapon is a beautiful touch); she is naive and innocent, though her transition to "tough" is completely believable. The writing, direction and animation is all completely spot on, as is the utterly inspired casting of Mandy Moore in the title part. She's always had brilliant comic timing, and whomever had the idea to put her in this role sure as hell earned their paycheque that day.
This is not the only piece of brilliant casting. Zachary Levi, Ron Perlman, and especially Donna Murphy are all wonderful in their roles, underlining the difference between someone recording lines and someone giving a real performance.
Sole credited writer Dan Fogelman has usually been a bit hit and miss for me in the past, but TANGLED is an undeniable hit. These days, we tend to throw around the "I laughed, I cried" comment only to be sarcastic, but there are times when it applies. TANGLED hit every single one of my buttons, and I cannot wait to see it again. If Disney has more like this in store for the future, then they are about to reclaim the world.
Australian/New Zealand release: December 2
I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the likes of M Night Shyamalan, Kevin Smith and Michael Bay. Just imagine what it must look like from their perspective: without warning, hordes of critics and fanboys turn on them for no readily apparent reason, turning their very name into a punchline that indicates mediocrity. So when they get pissed off about it, I sympathise.
But I still wish to explain to them why it is. In the case of M Night, it's a lot to do with his now-notorious claim that only he and Speilberg know the secret to storytelling, a statement he made shortly before directing a film in which wind kills people. Or it's casting yourself in your film as a writer whose words will one day influence the very fabric of mankind... before making a film in which wind kills people. More recently, it's because you're naming a series of low budget horror films after yourself, then pouring what must surely be 40% of the film's CGI budget into a graphic in which the name "The Night Chronicles" turns into a number one, indicating that we are about to see something momentous, and THIS ONE IS THE FIRST ONE.
It's this self-importance that's funny, but it's only a punchline because the resulting product is, lately, so bad. In the case of DEVIL, I can see what he was going for. People trapped in an elevator, one of them is the devil. That's not a bad concept, but you only really see it after the film, when you get some distance from it, then turn back and squint to try to figure out why on earth they would have bothered with it in the first place.
The concept is muddied because we're never made to care for any of the characters. We don't learn anything about them, they just enter the elevator and start acting hysterical. We're given a lot of character moments with all the people on the outside; the cop, the security guard, the god-fearing Latino security guard (for "Latino" and "god-fearing" are his only two character traits), and everybody inside the elevator could go to hell, literally and figuratively, as far as we're concerned. The only characters we care about are outside of the core drama, so the big scares comes from us hoping that they don't get blood on their nice suits when they're inspecting the crime scene later on.
The fact that we don't give two shits about any of the people inside the lift makes the entire film practically redundant. The "twist" -- and, let's face it, we all knew one would be coming -- is obvious from the get-go even if you're not really looking for one. The other twist, the who-is-the-devil one, is as unsurprising as it is boring. "Oh, it's that person. Fair enough." If you can muster more of a reaction than that, then your name is probably somewhere on the credits.
DEVIL is, by any regard, a bad film. It fails at pretty much everything it tries to do, from the whodunnit aspect to the supernatural element to the philosophical questions to any sense of even mild terror. It is a tremendously self-important piece, with no humour to indicate awareness of its own B-grade schlockiness, and it is for that reason it is ripe for the mocking.
If you ever plan to watch this, have some friends over, get blindingly drunk, and watch something else instead.
Australian release: January 6 // New Zealand: February 6
The almost-uniformly positive reviews of MORNING GLORY that peppered this site at the time of its US release made me incredibly suspicious. The trailer made it look like some sub-Nancy Meyers bullshit, with a checklist of clichés and Harrison Ford playing an audience-friendly version of a gruff, irascible news presenter. This film, I was convinced, would be another one of those ones that saw me out in the negative wilderness.
So, here's the surprise: MORNING GLORY is really, really good. For real.
The first reason is because of the excellent script, credited to Aline Brosh McKenna, who has thus far managed to write films -- 27 DRESSES, THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, LAWS OF ATTRACTION -- that I deliberately avoided, and one -- THREE TO TANGO -- which I quite liked. McKenna's script is, structurally, exactly like the sort of Meyes film I was describing before. In fact, the bad version of MORNING GLORY would have the exact same scene-by-scene beat sheet, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between them at a glance.
The devil, of course, is in the details. The film is set at a fourth-rate national US morning show, the would-be rival of "The Today Show" or "Good Morning, America". Rachel McAdams is the ambitious producer who has spent her entire life dreaming of working on such a show, but must contend with the egos of her two hosts, as well as a network fed up with low ratings. I was dreading the sort of sappy nonsense that would ultimately end in some speech about how morning shows bring people together, but the show takes the opposite view. All the characters in this film are intelligent, and the brief glimpses we get at their intellect are both admirable and deliberately disappointing in how irrelevant they are. Morning shows are purposefully portrayed as being vapid, hollow programs with no place for substance. The goal is not to bring intelligence to the masses, but to earn money and get up in the ratings. It's refreshingly honest, and I really responded to how brazenly the film laid out this world.
The second reason is that Roger Mitchell's direction is superb. He resists every temptation to go the usual glossy pop-song route with the film; the songs used are more interesting than a collection of the recent top twenty singles, the montages feel fresh and interesting, and he keeps things moving at a pace that will probably leave the intended audience a bit lost. And yes, I mean this as a compliment.
The third reason? The cast. Rachel McAdams ratchets her charisma up to eleven, and you can't take your eyes off her. It's a star making performance if there ever was one, and the film works mostly because you love watching her. Although the films are not alike, her performance made me think of ANNIE HALL, a comparison helped because she shares so many scenes with Diane Keaton. Keaton is perfect in this part, but like Jeff Goldblum and Patrick Wilson, the character feels a bit half-baked; you wonder how much was left on the cutting room floor. The other big casting success is Harrison Ford. He's finally found something to do with his permanent scowl, and the idea of him as a news reporter who has disdain for anything even partially "soft" gives us another in -- he cares purely for proper, hard news, and if you're anything like me, you'll appreciate this character. Much of the film's humour comes from Ford's dislike of just about everything around him.
The arc and much of the character motivations are unclear, and another pass at the script would have made the second half as focused as the first. I feel that some elements -- Ford and Keaton suddenly ripping into one another on air -- are leftovers from sequences left on the cutting room floor.
MORNING GLORY was a complete surprise to me. I went in ready to hate, and was completely surprised by what unfolded. I laughed out loud a lot, which doesn't really happen during screenings. McKenna, Mitchell, McAdams and Ford make this one to watch, and likely re-watch. I never thought I'd say this, but you should definitely check it out.
The film: It's been two years since I saw a work print of Steven Kastrissios's THE HORSEMAN, so even though I thought I knew what to expect going in, it turns out I didn't. The second viewing of the film is, for me, the key one, where the film's intentions and designs become all the more clear. THE HORSEMAN is, as described on the cover by someone called Harry Knowles from somewhere called Ain't It Cool News, "A very badass revenge flick." And it is certainly that, but it's got so much else going on. Pest exterminator Christian is out to avenge the death of his daughter, and he's starting with the men who made and distributed a sex tape in which she starred, either voluntarily or reluctantly depending on your point of view. The difference is that there's no indication that most of these guys did anything actually wrong. They're all morally-horrific guys, but Christian's "extermination" of them is not entirely justified, and as such, we're denied the visceral thrill from the kills. The lack of moral righteousness makes this infinitely more interesting than most other revenge flicks, as does the main character. Cleverly named Christian, he is a man at odds with a world that, through his eyes, is morally unforgivable. It's almost like watching SE7EN through John Doe's eyes, in which Doe is the hero. Ultimately, Christian is not angry at these men; he's angry at himself for failing his daughter. As such, he is the very definition of an Anti-Hero. The fact that stars Peter Marshall and Caroline Marohasy aren't the biggest actors in Australia and writer/director Steve Kastrissios hasn't had wads of money thrown at him to make his second feature means not nearly enough people saw this extraordinary film.
The extras: The blu-ray edition that I reviewed looks amazing, and they certainly haven't skimped on the special features. There are two audio commentaries, both with Kastrissios, and one of those with producer Rebecca Dakin and Peter Marshall. There's a 35 minute Making Of documentary, plus a 15 minute short film. There are deleted scenes with audio commentary, interviews with all the key people, and a theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: Without a doubt.
The film: It was interesting that everyone started going nuts about the US Blu-Ray release of NAUSICAA on the exact same day that the region four release arrived at my door. It's definitely worth getting excited about: although it's probably my least favourite Miyazaki film, that's kind-of like saying "my most hate Pixar film" or "the worst Scorsese movie". NAUSICAA is still a brilliant and wonderful movie. It's interesting that this film was made around the same time as Luc Besson's THE LAST BATTLE, as their visions of a post-apocalyptic world are strikingly similar. But whilst Besson's film had a somewhat disturbing underlying message about the place of women, Miyazaki's had a more admirable environmental undertone. It wasn't the obvious kiddy film thing where there's a bad guy trying to kill the trees; everyone is acting in what they think are best interests, and the immortal argument over greater goods is at the heart of the story. It's amazing stuff.
The extras: The high definition transfer looks predictably amazing. Ghibli releases are usually either packed-to-the-brim with extras, or completely bare bones, and I'm happy to report that this release is in the former camp. There's a long audio interview with Toshio Suzuki and Hidcaki Anno, interviews with the US voice cast (including Alison Lohman, Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, Mark Hamill, Shia LaBouef, and Edward James Olmos), an audio commentary, a storyboard/film comparison, and five original trailers for the film. But the best feature by far is the "Birth Story of Studio Ghibli" featurette. It's informative, but more importantly, it's gut-wrenchingly hilarious. It's tough to explain why, but you'll understand when you see it. The re-enactments! The po-faced Japanese presenter! The narration! It's worth the price of the disc alone.
Should you buy it: Damn straight you should!
The film: With "Don Giovanni" one of my favourite operas, I wasn't sure what this film was going to be: a music-less version of the story? That would be fine, as the story existed long before the opera, but I was afraid I'd be sitting there wishing for some Mozart to kick in any moment. As if anticipating my wish, the movie opens with a bang, kicking off with with some unexpected Vivaldi, and completely subverting my expectations by showing that this is a film about the making of Mozart's iconic opera. The film has an eclectic focus, shifting from poet Lorenzo da Ponte to Mozart nearly halfway through the film, and this shift leaves the viewer a bit lost. Its playful chronology makes it seem a bit unfocused, even moreso when it loses steam towards the end. It could be a lot tighter, but it's a sumptuous world to exist in for two hours, and despite its failings, I'd happily see it again.
The extras: The film's original theatrical trailer, plus a wonderful 13 minute feature on cinematographer Vittorio Storaro's image composition throughout his films, and the paintings and pictures that influenced him, looking at different image ratio, lighting style, etc. It's more esoteric than my description makes out, and a really terrific feature.
Should you buy it: Not an automatic yes or an automatic no: check it out as a rental first.
The film: Luca Guadagnino's love letter to European cinema is one of the most extraordinary experiences I've had in a movie theatre all year. It is pure cinema, cultivating dreamlike states one moments, then fascinating distancing feelings the next. It is an indefinable punch to the gut that so few films are able to achieve, it feels like alchemy. My original review sums up my feelings on the film, but to summarise: it is as close to perfection as a film can achieve. Far from being a self-conscious intellectual exercise, the clue to the film's point lies within its title: it is love.
The extras: A really good collection here. There's a commentary with producer/star Tilda Swinton and Guadagnino, interviews with the cast and director, and a really fantastic theatrical trailer. Best of all, there's a thirteen minute behind-the-scene documentary on the backing of the film. It's an extraordinary thing to watch, because the film is so ethereal, it's sobering to see a film crew actually making it in a traditional way.
Should you buy it: It is a film designed to be seen on the big screen, but that should not stop you from having it at your disposal to watch whenever the desire takes you. If you're anything like me, that desire will come often.
The film: Jean Cocteau's 1959 semi-autobiography was also his last film. The dreamlike nature of it, the heavy use of mythology, and the postmodern way that time and space is played with make this a film far ahead of its time. It is an autobiography that is fantastical and metaphorical, one where you feel that the disregard for facts brings you somehow closer to the truth of Cocteau. It is the stylistic progenitor of Guy Maddin's MY WINNIPEG, Terence Davies's OF TIME AND CITY, and Agnes Varda's THE BEACHES OF AGNES; the esoteric manner with which is moves back and forth through time, exploring history via a dreamlike protagonist who may or may not be tangible depending on the moment makes it directly related to Alexandr Sokurov's masterful RUSSIAN ARK. Most importantly, it's a captivating, beautiful film that is experimental, but far from random. This was Cocteau's last film, and I am now desperate to see his others.
The extras: How's this for an extra: 1959's LE TESTAMENT D'ORPHEE was the third part of his Orpheus Trilogy, with part two being 1950's ORPHEE and part one being his 1930 short LE SAND D'UN POETE (THE BLOOD OF THE POET). That short film is included on this set, and seeing Cocteau's themes -- mirrors, the identity of the artist, disconnection from reality -- develop over twenty-nine years is extraordinary. As extras go, this is the creme de la creme.
Should you buy it: I try not to say this too often, but this is one of those essential purchases.
The film: Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann's animated short has been winning an awful lot of awards, and it's easy to see why. Based on Tan's own illustrated story book, it's a simple story of a boy who finds a lost thing on a beach. That lost thing happens to be a gigantic mechanical creature with no discernible reference as to what it is exactly. It's a sort of giant mechanical crab/dog that you can throw a ball around with. Tan's world is a Dr Seuss-style cornucopia of strange objects and architecture. A vision of our world distorted, almost like how Sylvain Chomet sees things. It's a gorgeous short, and Tim Minchin's narration fits it perfectly. Really gorgeous stuff.
The extras: I love it when short films come out on DVD, because they're always filled with a lot of extras to justify the expense. THE LOST THING comes with an audio commentary from the directors, production art and deleted scenes, an interview, and behind the scenes videos. As much as I loved the film, I think I actually enjoyed some of the extras more! But that's not all. THE LOST THING is a box set, and included with the amaray case is a hardcover book called "What Miscellaneous Abnormality Is That?". It's a field guide to the creatures of the world, and it's brilliant.
Should you buy it: The film is great, but it's the extras that make this an essential buy. Certainly one of the better Christmas presents you could get if buying for a kid.
The film: This wonderfully understated character piece subverts all the expectations one would have about a film of this nature. It would be so easy to go down the usual class-division routes, but HEDGEHOG is cleverer than that. Paloma is a fascinating character, and her interactions with the people who live in the high-end building she cleans are what make the film what it is. Its final scenes are too self-consciously held-back when they require a more shocking treatment, but it still leaves you with the effect it is going for. A really beautiful, subtle film.
The extras: Some deleted scenes, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: If you like your dramas stoic and restrained, this is one to get.
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Dec. 10, 2010, 6:10 p.m. CST
While it doesn't top my Disney list, there's no reason for me to argue with someone who puts it at the head of theirs. All of the characters are a lot of fun, and the film is gorgeous. A good time all around.
Dec. 10, 2010, 9:41 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
The songs lack the earwork catchiness of Menken's best work of the 90's, and there's a dearth of interesting supporting characters. Still, the animaton is gorgeous, the voice acting lively, and Rapunzel is fucking HOT.
Dec. 11, 2010, 12:13 a.m. CST
by ace mccoy
Charity hurts is awesome it may have no budget but still manages to have loads of martial arts, action and stacks of comedy. Easily the most action packed independant film made to date.
Dec. 11, 2010, 5:10 p.m. CST
Try the graphic novel "Rapunzel's Revenge," by Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale. It's a very original take on the concept, well-illustrated, and had Rapunzel using her braided hair as a bullwhip back in 2008.
Dec. 11, 2010, 11:42 p.m. CST
"If you ever plan to watch this, have some friends over, get blindingly drunk, and watch something else instead." Classic! I only wish I could use a <p> to separate my paragraphs, then all would be right with the world.
Dec. 11, 2010, 11:58 p.m. CST
"If you ever plan to watch this, have some friends over, get blindingly drunk, and watch something else instead." Classic! I only wish I could use a <p> to separate my paragraphs, then all would be right with the world.
Dec. 13, 2010, 8:07 a.m. CST
by The Ringwraith
Stephen Rowley should be included on that list of required Australian writers on film. He won the AFCA Award for his review if 2012 last year and his writing spans many topics, on which he is always eloquent and fascinating. his website is sterow.com
Dec. 13, 2010, 8:09 a.m. CST
by The Ringwraith
Stephen Rowley should be included on that list of required Australian writers on film. He won the AFCA Award for his review if 2012 last year and his writing spans many topics, on which he is always eloquent and fascinating. Not only one of my favourite Aussie writers but one of the best in the world in my opinion. his website is sterow.com
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