AICN-Downunder: THE WAY BACK, WASTED ON THE YOUNG, I AM NUMBER FOUR, RABBIT HOLE, THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST, GRIFF THE INVISIBLE and more!
Okay, but we all know that marlins don't weigh three-thousand pounds.
This is the time of year I usually give my Oscar picks, sucked in as I am by the hype around a ceremony I place absolutely no stock in. (How many times have I written the words "Oscar-worthy" in a review, only to delete them moments later?) Except this year I can't figure out what to pick. I'm going to have to, as I'm going to two different Oscar parties and both have Oscar pick competitions running, but there's something about this year that's left me disinterested. Is it because there are too many favourites, or not enough? Is it because I like a whole lot of the nominated films, or feel ambivalent about them? Or am I just feeling cool on the whole awards ceremony thing?
The only thing that might get me excited about future ceremonies is a mash-up of nominated movies. And yes, that is just an excuse for me to post this, my prediction for Danny Boyle's TOY STORY 4. Ahem. On with the show.
I know THE HOBBIT news has been reported everywhere, but I'm too excited not to at least repeat the top sheet: principal photography on THE HOBBIT begins on March 21, 2011. I'm shocked to even type that sentence. It's finally happening, the actors are all locked in, Peter Jackson is directing, and life is good again. Capturing lightning in a bottle the second time around may be tough, and I'm slightly nervous at how far they've had to stray from the source material, but my anticipation is still at maximum levels.
Moviehole has heard a rumour that Phillip Noyce will be directing HUNTER KILLER, based on the Navy SEAL-based novel "Firing Point". As Clint points out, Noyce is currently attached to TIMELESS, WENCESLAS SQUARE and DIRT MUSIC, so I'm guessing whichever of those films he doesn't make will somehow make their way onto the slate of the equally-overbooked Guillermo Del Toro.
Change the title and I'll be your biggest cheerleader: GODDESS.COM is reportedly a "multi-million dollar film" -- and trust me, foreigners, our industry is such that multiple millions being spent on a single film is noteworthy -- that is a musical romantic comedy. The working title was the slightly-more-palatable THE GODDESS, and it will be directed by Mark Lamprell (AFTER THE RAIN, MY MOTHER FRANK) and produced by Richard Keddie (LITTLE FISH, MATCHING JACK) and Andrena Finlay (THUNDERSTRUCK, BLESSED). And, for the record, I'm totally in favour of us making more musical romantic comedies in principle. So consider me cautiously optimistic!
Andrew Traucki's THE REEF is coming out soon, and the website is offering a cool competition for two people to cage dive with Great White Pointer Sharks. The competition looks pretty cool, so fill out the entry form on the website. What can you possibly lose? Aside from your limbs, I mean. (Just 'cos I love pushing it, here's the trailer again. Cannot wait to see this one.)
Online piracy is a far, far more complex issue than many on either side would have you believe, and the hornet's nest has been well and truly kicked -- not in the boring Swedish way, as you'll see below in the review section -- with a new report from IPSOS and Oxford Economics on behalf of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft (AFACT) claiming that piracy results in a revenue loss of $1.37 billion in Australia alone. Read about it at Inside Film and Encore Magazine, and be very wary of anyone who gives a blanket defence or attack of piracy overall.
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.
22nd Alliance Française French Film Festival
The line-up for this year's French Film Festival is easily one of the best they've ever had, with a wall-to-wall selection of must-see films. There's François Ozon's POTICHE (starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu), Parisian Holocaust drama THE ROUND-UP (directed by Roselyne Bosch and starring Jean Reno and Mélanie Laurent), the fascinating THE PRINCESS OF MONTPENSIER (directed by Bertrand Tavernier), Jean Becker's MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITE (starring Gérard Depardieu), Yann Samuell's THE AGE OF REASON (starring Sophie Marceua and Marton Csokas), Pierre Salvadori's BEAUTIFUL LIES (starring Audrey Tatou), and so much more, including documentary TWO IN THE WAVE about Godard and Truffaut. There's so much more to the festival, but to tell you all will take up most of this column. The festival plays in most capital cities this March/April, so go to the website to check out the complete playlist and book tickets!
2011 Indian Film Festival
For those wondering, yes, we are spoiled for choice in Australia and New Zealand. If, like me, you are woefully ignorant of Indian cinema despite it having the largest film industry in the world, then an Indian Film Festival is the perfect place to start. As with the French Film Festival, there's far too much awesome stuff to list here, but highlights include: DABANGG, the biggest Bollywood hit of 2010, with Salman Khan as a corrupt cop; ROBOT, the most expensive Bollywood movie ever, with fight choreography by the legendary Yuen Woo Ping, animatronics by the Stan Winston Studios, music by Oscar-winning composer AR Rahman, and "a giant car-swallowing cobra made out of robot men"; AARRANYA KAANDAM, an incredibly violent, sword-filled gangster film with filthy language and lots of blood. The festival kicks off in March in various capital cities both in Australia and New Zealand, so check out the website for more info.
Everything and the Kitchen Sink: 30 Years of New Zealand Short Films
This is a great idea: New Zealand short films from 1980 to 2010 played over four consecutive Tuesdays in an outdoor bar featuring a selection of food, wine and boutique beers. Excuse me while I book a flight to Auckland. Opening night has already been and gone, but there are still three weeks left. Auckland residents who don't yet know about it need to go to iticketexpress.co.nz and keep their next three Tuesday evenings free.
2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival
I always want to trumpet new local films, but there's something about LITTLE JOHNNY: THE MOVIE that makes me uncomfortable. Little Johnny jokes are quintessentially Australian jokes -- which means they'll turn out to have originated in Poland or somewhere -- that are equal parts ocker and twee. I'm not a huge fan of the jokes, hence my trepidation about the film... but, still, I'm willing to be surprised. If you're willing to be surprised and you're going to be in Melbourne this April, book your tickets here.
I have much to say about the films listed below, but luckily I've said it all in previously-published reviews. For an insight into my insight, click on the links provided!
1. NO STRINGS ATTACHED
2. 127 HOURS
3. THE KING'S SPEECH
4. BLACK SWAN
6. TRUE GRIT
8. THE GREEN HORNET
9. THE NEXT THREE DAYS
10. THE FIGHTER
1. THE KING'S SPEECH
2. TRUE GRIT
3. NO STRINGS ATTACHED
4. 127 HOURS
5. BLACK SWAN
6. GNOMEO AND JULIET
7. FAIR GAME
9. THE GREEN HORNET
10. WILD TARGET
The running time on Danny Boyle's latest gets out of control, the greatest trilogy of all time is finally complete, Abbas Kiarostami's latest gets certified pasted into cinemas, I played a game at a fair once and it was almost nothing like this, I hope this rhyming scheme means we can expect ELF NIGHT and FAIRYCLES, Clint Eastwood's latest is hailed as his masterpiece by people who have never seen a Clint Eastwood film before, I hope this title inspired the first ever porn spoof of a documentary, this Bollywood film is just trying to cash in on KISSING JESSICA STEIN, Ashton Kutcher is in this film, this is a more accurate adaptation of "Alice In Wonderland" than Burton's effort, the sequels to this are understood to be SANCTER and SANCTUH, and the reason people would watch this film after that awful trailer is answered in its title.
127 HOURS (AUS/NZ)
BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON (AUS/NZ)
CERTIFIED COPY (AUS)
FAIR GAME (NZ)
GNOMEO AND JULIET (AUS/NZ)
INSIDE JOB (AUS)
NO ONE KILLED JESSICA (NZ)
NO STRINGS ATTACHED (AUS/NZ)
RABBIT HOLE (AUS)
Australian release: February 24 // New Zealand release: March 31
Peter Weir doesn't make enough films.
If, on the other hand, the big delays between projects is the reason they're so damned good, I guess I can live with the wait.
Critiquing Weir's films is difficult for me, because I've never been able to work out exactly what it is I love about them. MASTER AND COMMANDER is the one that has thrown me the most; on the outside, it looked like a film that would not interest me in the slightest, yet it remains a film I revisit often. Multiple viewing have not reduced the film's elusiveness, and my inability to penetrate Weir's brilliance makes me a failure as a film critic. Er, moreso.
THE WAY BACK, the true story of a group of men who escaped from a Soviet Gulag in Siberia during World War Two, braving the deadly conditions in a bid for freedom, does the same thing. That afore-mentioned intangibility to Weir's direction makes even the most seemingly-mundane situations captivating. As with the dullest criticisms of LORD OF THE RINGS, the one you will hear most often levelled at THE WAY BACK is that it's a film about people walking. A lot. And, as with LOTR, this criticism misses the depth, both aesthetic and textual, inherent in the story. The emotional peaks and toughs are juxtaposed against the physical peaks and troughs that the characters traverse, and the mere fact that you remain rapt for 132 minutes is a testament to both the originating story and Weir's skills.
Jim Sturgess, who until now has spent his career being good in films I don't like, absolutely nails the lead role of Janusz. There is an energy to him, and it's his energy that keeps the film moving along. We know just enough about his past to care about his back story, and yet the back story does not bog the film down or give us some painfully overt "goal" to reach. Ed Harris and Colin Farrell are both superb, as is the incredible Saoirse Ronan. Russell Boyd's cinematography is astonishing, and the score from Burkhard von Dallwitz is likely to be one of the year's best.
Beautiful and captivating and genuinely touching, THE WAY BACK is another masterstroke from one of our best directors. I look forward to watching it many times.
Australian release: March 3 // New Zealand release: TBA
Keep an eye out for Ben C. Lucas, 'cos that guy is going places.
Lucas's direction is one of the best debuts we've seen in Australia. There was a time, back in the dark days, when a film about teens doing drugs and combating bullying would have been gritty and dirty and unpleasant to look at, the low-grade production values an apparent (and poorly-judged) reflection of the on-screen nastiness. But not here. The images are crisp, with the impeccable surface sheen reflection the superficial perfection that the teens in this story strive for. From the opening moments, Lucas exhibits an almost-Lynchian control of the aural; his ambition for pace and tension is high, and he gets there every time.
But does the film itself work? A day after seeing it, I'm still struggling with that question. I came out of WASTED ON THE YOUNG knowing I felt strongly about it, but unsure of which direction these feelings lay. Was I amazed at the technique, knocked back by the ideas? Or was I somehow irritated with the narrative and the implied morality? As usual when faced with such polar opinions, the answer is a mix of both.
The morality of the film is something you can't avoid, especially given the film is about teens and how they deal with difficult situations. But as the film progresses and reaches its final, inevitable climax, I started to wonder if the morality issue was irrelevant. The actual beats of the story are pure metaphor for how these people act and how they react. The ending, as with much of what happens earlier, is not to be taken literally.
And at that realisation, many of my problems with the film go away. It's a piece that works on an aesthetic level, and on a subtextual level. The text? Well, it's a mix of odd choices and character inconsistencies, of unlikely revelations and a blur of fantasy and reality.
Before the film, some of us were complaining about how Australian funding bodies are so hung up on the idea of "Australian-ness" being artificially infused into every script and film they approve. That conversation is amusing in retrospect because WASTED ON THE YOUNG feels more inspired by the US than here; the swimming team, the guns, the lifestyle all feels as if it was originally set in Orange County before being shifted to an Australian beach-side suburb. But while that is an annoyance on a textual level, it is thematically relevant: these kids are all about consuming US culture above Australian culture, despite the southern cross tattoo on one of their backs, and so it all feels quite appropriate.
And that's the crux. Things that bother me in the text don't bother me at all in the subtext, where the film really lives. The almost-complete lack of parents or adults throughout the film make this as close to a modern-day "Lord of the Flies" as we're likely to see.
Just as CATFISH explored how we look at the world through the prism of technology, WASTED ON THE YOUNG shows us how directly that effects our lives, and how the more things change, the more they stay the same. The deliberate digital artefacting effect, for example, will be familiar to anyone who's ever watched a downloaded .avi file, and its use in signalling what is not real, but a copy of a copy, is inspired.
There isn't a weak spot in the cast, with notable standouts including Oliver Ackland, Adelaide Clemens, Alex Russell and Geraldine Hakewill, all of whom have the potential for long careers. But again, it's every performance in this film is spot-on. My reading of the film isn't the only possible one, and I suspect quite a few people will find it vapid and soulless, but for my money, WASTED ON THE YOUNG is an incredible film that you should absolutely see.
Australian release: February 24 // New Zealand release: March 3
I often extoll the virtues of going into a film without any foreknowledge other than the title, as this will often lead to a pleasant and surprising experience as the film unfolds the way it was intended. This, I've learned, is not a hard and fast rule. Sometimes it's better to temper your expectations so that when a boppy tween film starts up, you're not, well, disappointed.
As far as these films go, I AM NUMBER FOUR is quite well made. Director DJ Caruso handles the action well, and given how little I usually care about how action is handled, the fact that I even mentioned it is a compliment in itself. But with Michael Bay producing, this was hardly going to be a half-arsed effort.
The problem with the film comes from the source material, and I'm not talking about the book it's based on, but rather the hundred other books/comics/movies/TV shows that have come before it. Every single story beat is achingly familiar, from the guy who comes to the new school to the hot but quirky girl to the nerdy best friend to the bullies to the puberty metaphors. Nothing new is brought to the table here; the only advantage being that if you don't have time to watch HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT, SPIDER-MAN, "Buffy", "Roswell", THE KARATE KID, et al, then spending one hundred minutes with I AM NUMBER FOUR is nothing if not efficient.
As an origin story, it's a bit of a muddle, with the main kid already an alien with weird powers; an unexpectedly silly narration tells us about his home planet and its destruction and the survivors and the people who destroyed it and so on. The po-faced manner in which it launches into this explanation is a bit of concern; that he has a further origin which involves gaining powers he never knew he has is a smidge confusing given he wasn't really an ordinary boy to begin with. Unlike with Peter Parker, we only know he's gained a new power when he eventually expresses this to us.
The actors are all quite good, though only a few fit their roles. Alex Pettyfer would no doubt be great in a more suitable role, but the fact that he's already beefed up make it hard to experience shock when he becomes all-powerful. Why are we impressed that he's standing up to a bully when he towers several feet over him?
The over-earnest desperation with which the film tries to position itself as the successor to the teen franchise crown is forced, and the story itself is painfully familiar, but as far as these films go, it's not terrible. I'm not suggesting you rush out and see it, but if you find yourself forced to watch it, you could do a lot worse.
Australian release: February 17 // New Zealand release: March 31
Walking the line between drama and melodrama is tough. Walking the line between melodrama of quality -- think Sirk and Mizoguchi -- and melodrama of soap operas is even tougher, with the delineating factor all-too-often the subjective reading of the viewer. If the inherent yet subjective quality of all art is comparable to the health of Schroedinger's Cat, then the genre of melodrama is the closest we ever come to opening that box.
No time is wasted introducing the premise: Howie and Becca (played respectively by Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman) is still dealing with the death of their young child eight months ago. Whilst Eckhart's husband wears his emotions on his sleeve even as he moves on with his life, Kidman's wife lets hers bubble under the surface. In a seemingly antithetical twist to this setup, it's Howie who wants to move on even as his late son's possessions filling his house; Becca's the one who is trying to remove all traces of him to facilitate her own wallowing.
RABBIT HOLE is a powerful work, and surprisingly refreshing in how keenly it distances itself from overt metaphor. The metaphor is there in many scenes, but for the most part we're watching the lives of a couple, not representations, and seeing real people react in unexpected but natural ways is far more refreshing than it should be. This, of course, is a comment on how most other dramas do not satisfy in such a way, and RABBIT HOLE reminds us how it should be done.
It is a film that does not exist outside the lives of its leads, and it's a testament that it's so acutely cast. Kidman's sometimes cold, sometimes distancing persona is put to brilliant use here; for the first time, it is a veneer, and it's the depths that are altered. Contrasted to this is Eckhart's everyman earthiness, someone who more often (but not always) seems to be dealing with life with more grace. It is not hard to see where both of these characters is coming from, and the friction created is natural, never forced.
Eckhart and Kidman are both perfect in their parts, but equal credit must be given to the supporting cast (notably Miles Teller and the brilliant Dianne Weist), as well as writer David Lindsay-Abaire and director John Cameron Mitchell, who seems to be exploring similar themes to his first movie, even if RABBIT HOLE appears, superficially, to be a million miles from HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH.
But what truly impresses is the way Mitchell and Lindsay-Abaire sneak in clues and commentary when we least expect it. Look at what Becca buries in her garden and her basement. Look at what both she and Eckhart do in their cars after Teller's Jason has tearfully confessed to his one or two miles of excess. It's bitingly smart, but never self-satisfying clever, and handled with true mastery.
As we observe a film like this, our own lives colouring our interpretations, we come ever closer to Schroedginer's box, confident that even in a film infused with death and grief, the cat inside lives.
Australian release: March 3 // New Zealand release: December 26, 2010
Context is key. Would I like the so-called Millennium trilogy more if I chanced upon it in the wee channel-surfing hours of the morning on SBS or World Movies, when your expectations for quality cinema and storytelling are lowered due to the off-peakness of the time? Quite possibly. Unfortunately, they are presented theatrically, with the praise and self-confidence that suggests this is something extraordinary.
I remain underwhelmed.
The stories seem to ramble on, with the first in particular feeling like an origin story for "Blomkvist and Salander: Private Investigators". The mystery in the first neither compelled me nor convinced me; the revelations were too pulpy to be believable, and not pulpy enough to be truly fun. The second film delved more into the story of Lisbeth, and whilst I applaud this in theory, the revelations about her life were, at most, moderately interesting.
But what had me most interested was that the second film seemed to wrap up the story. Unless a new mystery was introduced, the only part of the Lisbeth's story I could see left to be told was the epilogue: maybe a court case and a bit of rehab for Lisbeth, and Blomkvist writing an article about it.
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST feels like a gigantic epilogue, most of which is consumed with Lisbeth doing rehab then a court case, and Blomkvist writing an article about it. Okay, sure, there's a new mystery -- which may actually have been a mystery left over from the first two films that I hadn't noticed -- but it's not really as gripping as it thinks it is.
This film, like the last, feels oddly episodic, which makes more sense when you look it up and discover these films were, in fact, spread over six episodes on Swedish television. It's structurally irritating and surprisingly unsatisfying in the cinema -- surprising because of the sheer number of terrific films (everything from PSYCHO to THE KING'S SPEECH) that have hinged on the game changing completely at the halfway mark, as opposed to the one-third or two-thirds mark.
Fans of the first two films will likely enjoy the final part of the trilogy, but those (like me) who were unimpressed by the airport novel feel of the original entries will probably find this one just as empty.
Australian release: March 17 // New Zealand release: TBA
If, like me, you've been anticipating this intriguing Australian superhero romantic comedy film, then stop reading now. The film they've been selling is very different from the film they made, and whilst that may be considered by some to be false advertising, the misdirection is essential. For once, it is in the best interests of both the film and yourself that you go in expecting something different from what is presented. I, unfortunately, cannot write meaningfully about this film without divulging its secrets, so if GRIFF is high on your radar, I recommend you look away now.
GRIFF THE INVISIBLE is sold as a superhero movie, because that is exactly how Griff (Ryan Kwanten) views his world. He is a superhero battling evil-doers, unable to divulge this secret identity to his co-workers, who all believe he is a meek nerd. When he meets his brother's girlfriend -- the equally-meek Melody (Maeve Dermody) -- he finds someone who shares an equally improbably view of the world. Melody, ironically, sees him for what he is: invisible.
The laundry list of things this film gets right is longer than the list of what it gets wrong, but it's a close tally. Is Griff really a superhero, or a poor deluded man? The manner in which the film answers this question is inspired, with some beautiful subtleties revealed at some very surprising moments. We're never quite certain of Griff's reality, and the fact that we are kept guessing about certain details right up to the end is a credit to writer/director Leon Ford, who makes some very apt choices here. Kwanten, too, commits to every idiosyncrasy of Griff, and it's a nice follow up to his performance in RED HILL.
But for all the beautiful touches, something feels a bit static about the film. Both the bullying subplot and the romance feel undercooked, with the former not going anywhere meaningful, and not informing Griff's character enough to justify its tapering. The film's underlying message about what constitutes sanity is a worrying one, and you don't get the feeling it was fully thought-through. Aesthetically, the film feels like it was made in that dark 90s period where we were throwing things at the wall to see what stuck; there's an undeniable flatness to much of it, and a real graininess to the image which may seem minor, but is quite off-putting.
It's also at odds with the effects which are, to take its name literally, effective. This is one of those films where the special effects are actually vitally important to the central story instead of just being throwaway eye candy, and there's no denying their effectiveness.
Does GRIFF THE INVISIBLE work? Reduced to a binary choice of yes/no, I'd lean towards yes. There's a lot to enjoy in this largely-original tale, and although its faults do stop it from being the instant classic it clearly has the potential to be, I think it's certainly worth checking out.
The film: Sydney Pollack's 1979 film is the sort of perfectly-paced work of brilliance that could only have been made in the 70s. Robert Redford is a celebrity rodeo star reduced to selling breakfast cereal and appeasing his corporate masters in Las Vegas. When he finally cracks at the falseness of his life, a TV reporter played by Jane Fonda tries everything she can to get the story. It's a story that takes some unexpected turns, and it's that sense of cliche-avoidance that makes it feel like one of the last true descendants of the New Hollywood movement. Redford, not quite young and not yet old, reminds us that the reason our global stockpile of charm has been irreversibly reduced is due to the fact that he used it all up before many of us were even born. The film's NETWORK-esque examination of how lives are lived through media remains relevant today, even if the film's depiction of it is positively tame compared to our current thoughtless saturation. Still, the themes are potent, the filmmaking is excellent, and THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN is something of a forgotten classic.
The extras: If, like me, you've ever made fun of a DVD slip for boasting that it counts "interactive menus" amongst its special features, then you'll be surprised to note that THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN does not even have that. Not even a placeholder menu! I suppose without special features, there's no real reason for it. I will say this, though: the film appears to be in its full anamorphic frame, with no cropping, and the transfer appears to be excellent.
Should you buy it: Very, very much a yes.
- In his continuing efforts to attach himself to every big studio film possible, Darren Aronofsky signs on to direct MAGNUM PI, in which a moustached private investigator solves crimes using mathematical formulae and the talmud
- Stephen King and Ken Loach team up for social realist horror CARRIE COME HOME
- Producers are unable to stop Samuel L Jackson from filming cameo at the end of Margaret Thatcher biopic THE IRON LADY
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Feb. 18, 2011, 10 a.m. CST
Feb. 18, 2011, 10:57 a.m. CST
by professor murder
Feb. 18, 2011, 1:24 p.m. CST
Makes me hard to accept the rest of his reviews as the words of film reviewing wisdom.
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