Did I say the weather is great? Well, it is. Though flash floods potential is still present. There's four-prong major canyons upstream from me that all converge in this 3 foot wide gap where I am. The rock I pulled down on top of me, it was put there by flood. Still, I'd get a drink.
So, last column I talked about the devastating floods in Queensland, imagining that by this column I'd be back to discussing films. Then a cyclone the size of North America hit the state, making its Biblical devastation a now-monthly event. What was once the Premier's Flood Relief fund is now the Premier's Disaster Relief fun, encompassing both the floods and the devastation from Tropical Cyclone Yasi. If you're able to, please click on this link and donate what you can.
The great Gena Rowlands is heading to Melbourne to star as a Holocaust survivor in LAST DANCE. She plays Ulah Lippman, a woman held hostage by an injured Palestinian terrorist, after a bombing in her Melbourne neighbourhood. The film will be the directorial debut of editor David Pulbrook (HOTEL SORRENTO, BRILLIANT LIES). More info at Inside Film.
Screen Australia has launched a YouTube channel, and, in conjunction with Dr George Miller, is launching a Map My Summer initiative. Want to share footage of your summer that can be used in a short film? And have it debut at the Sydney Film Festival? Go check out the YouTube channel and start filming.
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, brilliant experimental soundscape DREAMLAND, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, the self-explanatory GHOST SHARK 2: URBAN JAWS, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, self-described "womantic comedy" JUCY, pop art adaptation LBF, 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.
83rd Academy Awards
The Oscar nominations are out, which means every country is tallying the number of countrymen up for awards. Australia's at seven, with Nicole Kidman up for Best Actress (for RABBIT HOLE), Geoffrey Rush up for Best Supporting Actor (for THE KING'S SPEECH), Jacki Weaver up for Best Supporting Actress (for ANIMAL KINGDOM), Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemman up for Best Animated Short (for THE LOST THING), producer Emile Sherman for Best Film (for THE KING'S SPEECH), VFX supervisor Ben Snow amongst those up for Best Visual Effects (for IRON MAN 2), and Kirk Baxter for Best Editor (for THE SOCIAL NETWORK). An awful lot of searching failed to find any Kiwis nominated... talkbackers care to correct?
Sundance Film Festival
The award for Best International Short went to Ariel Kleiman's DEEPER THAN YESTERDAY, the Australian film that is currently winning every festival it comes into mild contact with. Other films, such as MAD BASTARDS, SHUT UP LITTLE MAN and LITTLE BROTHER, were apparently received well by audiences and critics alike.
X-Dance Action Sports Film Festival
Sundance wasn't the only Utah-based film festival, as Aussie surf film FIRST LOVE discovered when it won Best Documentary. The film follows three girl surfers from Phillip Island as they head to Hawaii to be mentored by champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore. The film also picked up the Emerging Filmmaker Award for director Claire Gorman.
The Melbourne International Film Festival, the Adelaide International Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival are uniting to protest the imprisonment of Iranian director Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Rasoulof, who were sentenced to six years for making films that were "against the Iranian regime". The festivals are working with Madman Entertainment on the screenings of Panahi's 2006 film OFFSIDE to raise money for the campaign. The Melbourne screening will take place at 7:15pm on Sunday March 6 at ACMI in Federation Square (book at http://www.miff.com.au). The Adelaide screening will take place at 6pm on Saturday March 5 at the Palace Nova East End Cinemas (book at http://www.adelaidefilmfestival.org or 08 8223 2161). The Sydney screening will take place at 2pm on Saturday March 5 at the Dendy Opera Quays Cinema (book at http://www.sff.org.au).
AFI Reel Australia
The winner of the AFI Reel Australia competition -- in which entrants had to make a film that showed the real Australia (it's a pun, geddit?) -- was Michael Allen with his film SOMETHING AUSTRALIA.
Kiwi documentarians should know there's a new doco competition open only to New Zealanders, and it looks like a cracker. Time limited film festivals are nothing new, but I'm not sure I've seen one for docos. You have 72 hours to make your film from start to finish. Fascinated? I sure am. Go to the festival's website for more info.
The dominance of BLACK SWAN and TRUE GRIT and THE KING'S SPEECH makes me happy. Then the appearance of films I don't like makes me sad. It's a slippery slope, and pretty much the same deal every single week. In less irrelevant news, click on the film links to see the AICN-Downunder review.
1. BLACK SWAN
2. TRUE GRIT
3. THE GREEN HORNET
4. THE KING'S SPEECH
5. YOGI BEAR
7. THE FIGHTER
8. HOW DO YOU KNOW
10. THE DILEMMA
1. THE KING'S SPEECH
2. BLACK SWAN
3. YOGI BEAR
4. THE GREEN HORNET
7. THE FIGHTER
8. GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
10. DON CARLO (MetOpera)
Mike Leigh examines people's psyches in A MOTHER YEAR, Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan make a tactical error with his new minstrel show, critics the world over try to think of another Facebook pun now they've used "like" for SOCIAL NETWORK, Dwayne Johnston stars in the pre-emptive sequel to his upcoming FAST FIVE, Jean-Paul Satre posits that hell is spending eternity with this movie, the lack of question mark in this title angers me?, Russell Crowe stars as an unlikely person, a spelunking mission goes terribly wrong, this film is called SHAOLIN, Stephen Frears balanced out the good movies in his filmography, the Coens show that their superficial popcorn movies are still deeper than everyone else's, and Bill Nighy channels his charming persona into a film with no charm whatsoever.
ANOTHER YEAR (AUS)
BLACK SWAN (NZ)
HOW DO YOU KNOW (AUS/NZ)
THE NEXT THREE DAYS (AUS)
TAMARA DREWE (AUS)
TRUE GRIT (AUS/NZ)
WILD TARGET (NZ)
Australian release: February 17 // New Zealand release: March 10
This was, I am ashamed to say, my very first Abbas Kiarostami film, and despite the fact that many have told me CERTIFIED COPY is atypical of his work, I am now eager (if not desperate) to seek out the rest of his films. CERTIFIED COPY is, frankly, a masterpiece.
I know many who disliked and even hated it, and I can see why. This is a stoic, restrained film that will either impress or frustrate, and the difference between those wildly different reactions is, antithetically, a gnat's wing.
Imagine Alexandr Sokurov directing BEFORE SUNSET and you have a pretty good idea of what this film is like. Not what it is, mind, but what it is like. Sokurov's RUSSIAN ARK was a sucker punch to the deepest recesses of my psyche, creating a hypnotic mood that I have never seen replicated (which is why I persistently reference the film in about 93% of my reviews). Sokurov alters reality in slight, almost imperceptible ways, and it's that mood that is most familiar in CERTIFIED COPY. Similarly, the concept of two people walking around a city neither of them hail from is deeply reminiscent of Richard Linklater's films; the quasi-real time aspect of CERTIFIED leaning it more in the direction of SUNSET than SUNRISE.
And yet, CERTIFIED COPY is its own beast. The France-born Elle (Juliette Binoche) shows English-born James (William Shimell) around the Italian village of Lucignano as the two attempt to connect. James has written a book called CERTIFIED COPY in which he argues that a facsimile of a great work of art is no less valuable than the original. The only meaning inherent in these works of art is the meaning we give them, a position that is put to the test when Elle finds meanings that are at odds with those interpreted by James.
It is a film about perception, and everything is filtered through something else. From the visually symbolic (characters reflected in glass or framed within a doorway) to the profoundly esoteric (characters filtered through the behaviour of other characters), everything in this film possesses only the meaning that is inferred by the characters within it.
It would have been a mistake to leave the audience's inferences out of the equation, which is Kiarostami's masterstroke. There is a moment in this film -- I'm loathe to call it a "twist" -- that changes our understanding of what is going on, and yet what this moment is is not entirely clear. There are multiple readings of what has happened, each of them valid and supportable, and each tremendously powerful. Reality is not an objective truth, we are told, and this film a perfect proponent of this argument.
Juliette Binoche is heartbreaking in what may her best performance to date; William Shimell possesses an almost alchemic balance of charm, charisma and pomposity. The two of them react against one another in a way that exposes complex emotions so rarely explored on film. The locations are breathtaking, and the cinematography by Luca Bigazzi is as lush -- though far more understated -- than last year's photographic highlight, Yorick Le Saux's I AM LOVE photography.
Some audiences will be angered, bored and frustrated by this film; others will find a viscerally perfect, beautiful work of genius that reminds us in a very real way that art is only ever as affecting as our perception of it.
Australian/New Zealand release: February 10
A single location film, such as this film's unavoidable comparison BURIED, is a thrilling prospect. It's challenging for actor, screenwriter, director and cinematographer, and it's usually those constraints that shake loose true creativity. More often than not, walls both metaphorical and literal result in great work.
The counterpoint to this is the "single event" film. The plot to 127 HOURS is well known, but if you want to remain unspoiled, this is the point at which to stop reading: rock climber Aron Ralston, in the depths of Utah, finds his arm trapped under a rock. After a few days, he realises his only hope is to cut his arm off with a pocket knife, which he does. It's a true story, and an extraordinary one at that... but does it make for good cinema?
A man cutting his arm off to escape from a rock sounds like a thin premise to hang an entire film on, and for the most part screenwriters Danny Boyle and Simon Beaufoy do a good job at keeping things going. But far too often, the film drifts into flashbacks and fantasies, diversions that seem designed to run out the clock. I have not read the book upon which this is based, and it would not surprise me if every one of these hallucinations had in fact been experienced by Ralston, but it doesn't quite work on film. The dream of the long-lost girlfriend, the premonitions of a would-be son, flashbacks to the family, all of these feel hokey. Real life often does feel hokey on film, and I'm sure there is a better way to service both Ralston's life and the film itself.
But I'll reiterate that the film is, for the most part, very good. Ralston is a fascinating character, and James Franco plays him brilliantly. There's a combination of the maverick and the geeky in him, and Franco nails this the way he does every character he plays. Boyle's direction is kinetic in the extreme, and whether it works or not depends entirely on the audience. The multi-screen fast-cutting will likely irritate as many as it delights.
When we eventually get to the scene everyone's waiting for, it is graphic, though not as graphic as the overwhelming pre-release hype might suggest. (As a contact lens wearer, I squirmed more when his lens fell out, but that might just be me.) It is depicted very well, and the sense of relief that follows is palpable.
Ultimately, I have to conclude with a qualified recommendation. It's not the great film it could be, but it is an intense ride that should succeed in shaking everyone who sees it.
Australian release: February 17 // New Zealand release: TBA
This Oscar-nominated documentary about the financial crisis is actually two movies. The first movie is a fascinating, if occasionally flawed, look at the rise of corruption within the financial industries. The second movie is the same as the first one, except you imagine the members of Monty Python as the interviewees saying the exact same dialogue, and it's suddenly an over-the-top spoof of how businessmen might behave. The first film is scarier.
It's always tricky in docos about politics or money to know just how far to go down that rabbit hole. You can dive deep into the meaning behind confusing but important algebraic equations that are key to the whole mess, or you can go the other way and spend half your movie explaining how a credit card works. For the most part, INSIDE JOB gets this balance right, although it too often achieves this balance by enjoying both extremes in quick succession.
My bank manager will be the first to confirm that I do not understand how money really works, and this is mostly down to a lifelong disinterest in it. Combine this with a five hour kip on a friend's couch the night before, and it's safe to say that there were times where INSIDE JOB left me way behind. This is fine; I'm happier with a documentary getting on with what it needs to and letting me do the catchup legwork. But these scenes are contrasted with what American politicians irritatingly refer to as "Gotcha!" moments. Too often is the film satisfied to cut away from interview subjects on a pause or stutter, a cunning edit designed to make them look as foolish as possible. This is a powerful tool, and I do get a perverse pleasure from watching docos do this from time to time, but here it is used excessively. I have little sympathy for these people, most of whom can be politely described as morally reprehensible, but I'm far more interested in learning new information, discovering more of their side of the story than I am with confirming my own liberal beliefs. Allowing these guys to damn themselves with their own words rather than a punchy edit would be less viscerally satisfying, and more intellectually satisfying.
But maybe I'm being unfair. The doco does give its subjects plenty of time to speak, and they do say some extraordinarily ridiculous things. You come away from INSIDE JOB with a richer -- though noticeably incomplete -- understanding of how the crisis occurred and how the culture of Wall Street continues to feed off the society it's supposed to be supporting. A somewhat terrifying and essential film.
Australian release: February 10 // New Zealand release: February 3
Matt Damon has two films out this month. In one of them, he plays a psychic who can communicate with the dead. In the other, he plays a cowboy. Now tell me which one you think Clint Eastwood directed.
Twenty years ago, this would have been an easier question to answer (if, for the sake of argument, you ignore all the people asking who Matt Damon is). Since then, Eastwood's interests have gone in many different directions, and this, on the surface, is to be applauded. It's always admirable when filmmakers leave their comfort zones and explore any subject available to them, even if one of those subjects is somebody who can apparently talk to the dead.
Usually, going into a film with an open mind is something I find easy. With this one, I had to work at it. The earnestly literal spiritualism the trailers and posters suggested made me uncomfortable... but then, thought I, one of my favourite films, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, is the base standard of all earnestly literal spiritualism, with its first hour told from the point-of-view of an angel, so why am I bothered now? The simple answer is that I was somewhat patronisingly thinking of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE as coming from a simpler, more naive time. The more complex answer, and the one I put more stock in, was that the angelic visions in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE are used in service of a deeper story. The solution to George Bailey's problems don't come from a wave of an angel's magic wand, but from a decision made by George after he learns something about himself. Clarence may be trying to earn his wings, but there is a more profound human drama going on, and that's what we respond to. Maybe, I thought, HEREAFTER would use its plot in service of a story that says something about mortality, about beliefs, about life.
This, it turned out, was hoping for too much. The screenplay by Peter Morgan is woefully thin. Three separate storylines show people dealing with death in some form or another, and more often than not those forms are ones that have little inherent interest. In most multi-plot films, the characters and stories come crashing into one another with the speed of a bullet train. In HEREAFTER, they collide with the speed of an aeon-long continental drift. Perhaps that's what inspired the tsunami that opens the film.
The tsunami, incidentally, is the film's best bit. It's a great misdirect if you don't know it's coming -- oops, sorry -- and there's a power to how unexpectedly it hits, the sort of power Roland Emmerich could only dream of. The point of the tsunami, it unfortunately transpires, is to give Marie LeLay (Cecile De France) a near death experience. When viewed in that prism, what was once powerful now becomes annoyingly trivial, a feeling compounded by a recreation of the London subway attacks. Whether these things bother you or not will depend on your reading of the film's intent: to me, the intent was trivial, and the use of these truly terrible occurrences was offensive on many a level.
But what tears the film down is its inability to illuminate anything about the human condition. The journeys of these characters are so one-dimensional, they seem almost intentionally humorous. There are no deeper lessons learned, and certainly nothing anyone else can take away. If the story of George Bailey is one that ultimately teaches us that our lives are always worth living, then the story of the characters in HEREAFTER is that you'll feel better if you accidentally run into a psychic.
And this comes to the film's most reprehensible act: it is propaganda for psychics. The John Edwards of the world will love this film, because of its automatic assumption that these powers are real and they are possessed by good men. Yes, there are charlatans, but they are there purely to highlight just how honest the likes of George Lonegan (Matt Damon) are. Since his powers are not used in any way that advances character -- the one briefly-affecting moment he has comes when he lies, for some reason -- it can only be viewed as an endorsement in and of itself.
This review is already far too long, and there are so many elements that have gone unlisted. There's Bryce Dallas Howard's Melanie, who disappears halfway through the film after fulfilling a function that about three minor characters had already covered. There's Jay Mohr's Billy, brother of Damon's George, whose sole expression is a look of surprise that he's in a Clint Eastwood film. There's the absurdly meaningless ending, with a misstep so big you wonder if it was simply a fault with the editing machine. Then there's Eastwood's direction.
Look, I love Clint Eastwood. I really do. His contributions to cinema as both an actor and director would have me bowing at his feet, should I ever find myself near them. But HEREAFTER is a prime example of a worrying trend in his recent filmography: a distinct laziness. It's easy to take things you hear about a filmmaker's methods and subconsciously apply them to the film you are watching -- in this case, Eastwood likes fast shoots and fast edits, and that fact can colour your interpretation of the film -- but the flatness and disinterest is deeply ingrained in this film. It is up there on the screen, the boring staging, the lack of cohesion between the actors, the unavoidable feeling that nobody really cares.
There is almost nothing in this film that works. It is a staggeringly poor film that exists purely to challenge the notion that CHANGELING was Eastwood's worst film.
The film: Having been brought up on a steady diet of Hitchcock my entire life, I just naturally assumed I'd seen THE LODGER. He's such a part of my DNA, that when I actually sat down to watch the film, I was shocked to discover it was unfamiliar. And I'm glad for that; the delighted shock at seeing something simultaneously old and new is a rare and powerful thing. Nearly all of my experience with silent film has been with the likes of Chaplin and Keaton, and though they pushed the medium in all sorts of exciting directions, I'd never seen anything close to what Hitchcock did with it in THE LODGER. The film is about paranoia and suspicion, about mob mentality. It is a great counterpoint to Fritz Lang's M (which was, of course, made later), in not only theme and subject, but in how both films continue to stand up today against everything else on offer. Remarkable and mind-blowing.
The extras: (Deep breath) There is both the original score and a new score composed in 1999 by Ashley Irwin. On the second disc, there is Hitchcock's 1927 silent thriller DOWNHILL (aka WHEN BOYS LEAVE HOME). There is an illustrated booklet containing two essays, one called "THE LODGER - A Story of the London Fog" by Dr Brian McFarlane, and the other "Alfred Hitchcock's THE LODGER: A Theory (or two)" by author Ken Mogg. But best of all is a 1940 radio play of THE LODGER made by Hitchcock himself; the set contains a story told with vision and no sound, and then again with sound and no vision. As if you needed more proof that Hitchcock was the greatest there ever was.
Should you buy it: It is absolutely an essential purchase.
The film: Julien Duvivier's 1936 gangster film is a classic in every sense of the word. A moody noir, it focuses on an elusive gangster named Pepe Le Moko (Jean Gabin, who looks distractingly like Kenneth Brannagh) who has been evading police for years by hiding out in Algerian Casbah. Casbah's labyrinthian streets and winding alleyways make it an impenetrable city, allowing Pepe to move about with ease. I've always loved films with a palpable sense of place, and the opening of PEPE sets it up admirably: a montage of the city as a voice over sets up the world lets you know exactly what you're in for, and it's a credit to Duvivier's skill that the great characters and compelling plot are eclipsed by the location itself, for it is details such as this that truly stick in the mind. The structure of the film makes it feel like the progenitor of modern crime epics: key characters are introduced late in the proceedings, and Pepe's growing sense of frustration with his oasis (now his prison) has a subtle incline. The ending, it must be said, is brilliant.
The extras: There's a commentary from two senior lecturers at La Trobe University's Cinema Studies department, Anna Dzenis and Rick Thompson, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: This is one of those films that will appeal to lovers of both classic French cinema and all-out gangster movies. A must-purchase for cinephiles.
The film: "She looked like a Botticelli angel giving King Kong a blow job." That line, spoken in the opening moments of this documentary, should give you an idea of what you're in for. Lillian Roxon was an Australian rock journalist who moved to New York and apparently influenced the rock scene more than anyone else. This terrific film is narrated by Judy Davis, whose authoritative voice gives the proceedings a much-needed weight. Roxon is a fascinating figure, and the film shows her at her best and her worst, which is the perfect balance: films like this tend towards sugar-coating or attacking, and its fairness makes it quite the trustworthy biography. For fans of 60s/70s music, this is a must.
The extras: Because it's an Australian doco, access to extra material is much easier. There are some interview offcuts that didn't make the final cut, with the likes of Germaine Greer, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper (who all feature heavily in the main feature). It's a shame there isn't more on the disc, although it's hardly a deal-breaker: this is not one of those films you buy for the special features.
Should you buy it: Like I said above, this is a must for fans of 60s/70s music. It's an essential piece of the music scene puzzle, and certainly one I was surprised not to have any knowledge of. Definitely one to pick up.
The film: The title of this film is a misdirect in more ways than one: it is an extremely subjective phrase, directed at a woman who is far from being our focus. Instead, it is the titular father who is the centre of our attention, a film producer struggling with debt and difficult directors at the same time he's pushed to spend more time with his family. And beyond that, it's practically impossible to discuss the weighty aspects of the film without giving the whole game away. Mia Hansen-Løve's film continuously messes with your expectations, and the film you think you're watching in the beginning is unlikely to be the same film you think you're watching at the end. It is a drama that keeps its distance from the emotional weight of its subject matter, to an almost frustrating degree. Its emotional distance is reflected in its characters, who are neither effusively expressive nor inappropriately closed off. It's a film that keeps you at arms length even as it's making you weep, and is certainly one of the better French dramas from the past few years.
The extras: There's an interview with Hansen-Løve conducted by Nell Schofield (exclusive, one assumes, to the region four edition), as well as the film's theatrical trailer.
Should you buy it: Much as I really liked it, I remain ambivalent about some aspects of the film; it's certainly not an automatic sight-unseen purchase, but one worth checking out before you commit.
The film: Frustratingly, I missed this screening at last year's MIFF, but I remained intrigued by the quote in the guide from the Cinematical review: "If 'The Sopranos' had been cooked up by Mike Leigh instead of David Chase, the result might resemble DOWN TERRACE." I couldn't have said it better myself. A descendent of the best British crime films, DOWN TERRACE is a slow-burning moody thriller with great characters and a consistently engaging plot. Co-writer Robin Hill stars alongside his real-life and on-screen father Robert Hill, and both are top-notch as criminals who are unpredictable in their own unique ways. Director Ben Wheatley keeps things moving along well, and the result is one of the most understated but most impressive crime films of the last ten years.
The extras: A lot of great stuff on here, including an acting test, a camera test, some extended and deleted scenes, and a sequence on the stunts of the film, all of which are a lot more interesting than they sound. There's also a well-cut trailer that unfortunately gives away far too much.
Should you buy it: Destined to be a classic, this is one you're going to want to keep in your collection.
- Gemma Aterton to reprise her most recent character in war-torn sequel TAMARA WHEN THE WAR BEGAN
- After carefully studying the details of Robert Downey Jnr's post-drug comback, Lindsay Lohan puts in a bid to play Tony Stark in IRON MAN 3
- After a Disney employee misunderstands the definition of "promotion", the film SECRETARIAT will be released in Australia under the title of EXECUTIVE ASSISTIAT