Movie News

AICN-Downunder: HOWL, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, MAD BASTARDS, And Much More!

Published at: March 4, 2011, 4:42 p.m. CST

Side effects include: drowsiness, apathy, and blurred vision... I'm taking two.

AICN-DOWNUNDER

Australian films are starting to trickle out this year, with the likes of GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, WASTED ON THE YOUNG and MAD BASTARDS (the latter reviewed below) dividing critics, but each winning over vocal supporters. Meanwhile, high-concept/low-budget thriller THE DINNER PARTY is finally seeing a release, with theatrical screenings and DVD releases in both Australia and New Zealand. On top of that, I'm hearing some amazing buzz about an upcoming Australian film that I'm really looking forward to (and am kicking myself for not shifting things to attend the screening). There's a lot of great local content coming out at the moment, much of it better than the imports, so think twice before plonking down money for something you know is going to be boring and formulaic and go see an Aussie film. Not because you should "support local films", to hell with that sentiment! See them because they're brilliant films that are made, first and foremost, to entertain.

There's a current crop of filmmakers that seem to have been raised with the same frustrations that audiences seem to have with local cinema: that it's distancing and self-consciously "worthy". Writers, directors and producers are forging ahead with the sorts of films they themselves would want to go and watch in cinemas... and approach that will ultimately sustain this renaissance for a long time to come.

NEWS

There's some pretty comprehensive HOBBIT reporting going on at TheOneRing.net, which is good, because their business model pretty much limits them to this single franchise. The most interesting posting has been the two potential subtitles for the HOBBIT films. Spy Mr Underbelly has noticed that New Line recently registered the following film titles: THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN and THE HOBBIT: AN/THE UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. There are any number of explanations for what these registrations could mean, but it does seem a lot like these will be on marquees within the next couple of years.

So excited were we at the prospect of an Australian franchise series, we all seemed concerned about the greenlighting of the TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN sequel before the original had even been released. Rest easy, Marsden fans: September is the start date for the sequel, which will also be written and directed by Stuart Beattie. The entirety of the film -- including post-production -- will take place in Australia, and the surviving cast members... or, to put it more tactfully, the cast members who played characters that survived the first movie, are expected to return. No word on the title yet -- the second book is called "The Dead of the Night" -- but the production is currently operating under the working title TOMORROW 2. My guess is some sort of hybrid branding will be employed, ie: TOMORROW: THE DEAD OF NIGHT. But then I also said that WB would never release a Batman film without the word "Batman" in the title, so what do I know?

Also confirmed to be shooting in Sydney is Baz Luhrmann's 3D version of THE GREAT GATSBY, the film that ruined my as-yet unused Next Week joke "Baz Luhrmann to remake THE GREAT GATBSY in 3D". Pre-production begins this month, with shooting kicking off in August.

According to an interview Dr George Miller gave to The Daily Telegraph, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is on track to begin filming a year from now. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are still on board, but it's looking unlikely that Teresa Palmer will return, making it the second George Miller film she's missed out on due to delays or cancellation. (The other being JUSTICE LEAGUE: MORTAL. This should be a Trivial Pursuit question.) The release date is currently set for 2013.

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.

AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS

83rd Annual Academy Awards

Did you know THE KING'S SPEECH is technically an Australian film? Not just because Geoffrey Rush and Guy Pearce star, either. Producer Emile Sherman hails from Sydney, and key elements of the financing deal originated in Australia. So, with that in mind, Australia's own THE KING'S SPEECH won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor at the Oscars! Although Rush himself lost out Best Supporting Actor, Nicole Kidman missed Best Actress for her role in RABBIT HOLE, and Jacki Weaver didn't receive the Best Supporting Actress gong for her ANIMAL KINGDOM performance, other Aussies fared well. Ex-pat Kirk Baxter was a co-winner (alongside Angus Wall) of the Best Editing award for THE SOCIAL NETWORK; Aussie make-up artist Dave Elsey shared the Best Makeup award for THE WOLFMAN with the legendary Rick Baker; and, beating the odds, Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann collected the Best Animated Short award for Australian film THE LOST THING.

2011 Documentary Edge Film Festival

Chris Metzler's documentary EVERYDAY SUNSHINE: THE STORY OF FISHBONE follows the the punk band Fishbone and its rise in South Central LA, and is narrated by Laurence Fishburne (I'm guessing the second choice was Tim Story). The film plays at the Documentary Edge Film Festival in New Zealand, with screenings in both Auckland and Wellington. Click here to find the film's times, and make sure you check out the rest of the festival's programme.

BOX OFFICE

I'm surprised, but pleased, to see a noticeable boost from the Oscars given I really dug all of the prominently-nominated films. On the other hand, I AM NUMBER FOUR and GNOMEO AND JULIET are topping the Australian box office, so there's always that. And if it seems like I type the same variation on that good/bad dichotomy every column, you'll want to mix it up by clicking on any of the linked film titles to see my extensive review of said film. A warning: said reviews are definitive.

Australia

1. I AM NUMBER FOUR
2. GNOMEO AND JULIET
3. UNKNOWN
4. THE KING'S SPEECH
5. NO STRINGS ATTACHED
6. CONVICTION
7. BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
8. BLACK SWAN
9. 127 HOURS
10. THE WAY BACK

New Zealand

1. THE KING'S SPEECH
2. LOVE BIRDS
3. UNKNOWN
4. TRUE GRIT
5. I AM NUMBER FOUR
6. BLACK SWAN
7. GNOMEO AND JULIET
8. NO STRINGS ATTACHED
9. BIG MOMMAS: LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
10. SANCTUM 3D

RELEASED THIS PAST FORTNIGHT

We finally see a more family-friendly adaptation of FIGHT CLUB, here the word "conviction" has a double meaning, the cast of this film makes me think it was actually made in the mid 80s, this is the third inadvisable thing in a row this girl has done, there are few words to accurately convey how disinterested I am in seeing this film, every film you've ever seen in compressed bar form, this title vastly reduces sequel possibilities, I can't tell if this is a suggestion, the word "final" is such a tease, this film isn't very good, Stephen Fry addresses something that's long bothered me, we discover a great new Australian director, and then re-discover a great old Australian director.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (AUS/NZ)
CONVICTION (AUS/NZ)
GET LOW (NZ)
THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST (AUS)
HALL PASS (AUS/NZ)
I AM NUMBER FOUR (AUS/NZ)
THE LAST EXORCISM (NZ)
LOVE BIRDS (NZ)
SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER (NZ)
TAMARA DREWE (NZ)
WAGNER AND ME (AUS)
THE WAY BACK (AUS)

REVIEWS

HOWL

Australian release: March 10 // New Zealand release: TBA

The power of Alan Ginsberg's seminal poem "Howl" is the rawness, the anger that the words inspire. Even static on the page, they jump out like no other prose I've read, boiling your blood and raising the hairs with its punchy, staccato syllables. It's powerful stuff, so when, in the movie HOWL, Ginsberg (James Franco) begins to read it to a crowd, it sounds oddly restrained. Franco's Ginsberg is no doubt very accurate, so it's no indictment of his performance. In fact, the opposite: the recital sequence is interspersed throughout the film, played alongside a re-enactment of the obscenity trial the poem gave rise to, as well as a strand in which Ginsberg discusses his life to an off-screen biographer. As the trial goes on and Ginsberg's life gets more exciting, the poetry reading gets more heated, until he is finally delivering the words with the force they demand.

This biopic is very low key, cleverly avoiding histrionics in favour of a more documentary feel... hardly surprising given directors Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein hail from such works as THE TIMES OF HARVEY MILK and THE CELLULOID CLOSET, two brilliant docos well worth seeking out. It is comfortable in its recreations, unwilling to conform to a standard narrative structure that would unavoidably require the altering of events.

Franco is great here -- for my money, even better than he was in 127 HOURS -- as is the whole cast. However, as wonderful as the performances are, the cast represents one of my main problems with the film. Given how part of the film focuses on whether Ginsberg's poem has borrowed too much from Walt Whitman, it's funny that the cast of HOWL feels like a sort-of Period Piece Best Of. All these actors are familiar in this 1950s setting, from Franco's Jimmy Dean facsimile, to John Hamm's permanent mid-century casting call, to Jeff Daniels and David Strathairn keeping their costumes from GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. There is a familiarity here that lacks the striking feel of originality; a criticism that's very difficult to make given how well the actors all inhibit their parts.

The other criticism is also a qualified one. The animation that covers much of the reading of "Howl" is wonderfully creative, full of rich ideas that stemmed from Ginsberg's own art. However, a lot of it is overtly computer-generated, an anachronism that is more distracting than it should be. And yet, the anachronistic CGI only stands out because the animation is, overall, excellent, and a wonderful representation of the words.

It's a unique take on a story that could so easily have slipped into the Feel Good Grinder, and it's that uniqueness that sets it apart. Despite its minor, niggling faults, HOWL is an excellent film, an extraordinary insight into one of the great writers of the Beat Age, and one that I would, without hesitation, recommend.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU

Australian/New Zealand release: March 3

It's no coincidence that the best film from a Philip K Dick book -- BLADE RUNNER -- changed almost everything in sight, ending up a world away from the also-brilliant "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Dick is one of the best science fiction writers of the classic age, one of my favourites and up there with Asimov and Clarke, yet there's something about his ideas that don't seem to translate well to cinema. We tend to blame the filmmaker, but maybe it's the source material. Maybe Dick just dealt in ideas that worked better on the page than within the confines of a Hollywood carefully-beat-sheeted story.

It was the trailer to THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU that helped solidify this idea. A global conspiracy? Mysterious men in dapper suits with super powers? True Love between two pretty people as a maguffin? It felt like all the worst elements of cinema combined with the worst elements of bad 90s TV sci-fi, and I was dreading the result.

Screenwriter/director George Nolfi managed to cut off every dangerous alleyway with a carefully-placed magic door. To my eyes, the great success of this film is the avoidance of awful clichés, so forgive me if I laundry-list them here. All too often, these science fiction global conspiracies seem to be infinitely funded, and its members emotionless men with no limit to their powers... yet our lead always manages to trip them up for no reason other than we've reached the act two climax. Not here. Surprisingly, the intentions, power and reach of the "bureau" is laid out with clarity, and the non-traditional look behind the curtain at their own frustrations and blocks actually makes them all the more impressive. When our lead begins to attempt beating them at their own game, his actions are both clearly-motivated and fit within everything we've been told.

This is because Nolfi approaches the material with a science fiction fan's eye for detail. There are so many lines that explain so many details of the world that would normally be excised from the shooting draft of a big budget SF film, usually in favour of the human drama.

And, of course, THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU shows you can have it both away. Amidst the science fictionality of the story is a genuinely nice love story between Matt Damon's David and Emily Blunt's Elise. Despite what the promos tell you, it's not simply a fact of "Oh, they're meant to be together because they're both young and pretty, it's true love, don't question it". You see the introduction, you get the attraction, and you can completely feel David's desperation to be with her. In a film I expected to brush over the science fiction and ignore the nuance of realistic human relationships, BUREAU manages to nail both.

There is still a je ne sais quoi missing from the film. Perhaps it's the underlying -- though mostly unintrusive -- spiritual message that seems at odds with the detailed specifics of the Bureau's operations. Perhaps it's the lack of clear, tangible threat that should prevent David and Elise from being together. Perhaps it's the neat but somewhat unsatisfying ending.

Small niggling details keep this from being a classic, but don't keep it from being a solid film and one of the better Philip K Dick adaptations.

MAD BASTARDS

Australian release: May 5 // New Zealand release: TBA

Even if you've never experienced a world you're seeing on screen, it is not difficult to identify authenticity. Authenticity is what invests you in the characters and the environment they inhabit, and although I've never been to the far north of Australia, it's not hard to tell a film like AUSTRALIA from a film like MAD BASTARDS.

Maybe that comparison is obtuse. Despite my dislike of AUSTRALIA, it was a romantic fantasy, and so departures from any sort of reality grounding can be understood, if not forgiven. It does, however, bring the reality of MAD BASTARDS into sharp relief: it is impossible to ignore than everything you are seeing on screen is real. It might not be the literal, unfettered truth of a specific person's life, but there is no denying that what we are seeing is a prevalent reality.

MAD BASTARDS is, broadly speaking, the story of a thirteen-year-old Aboriginal kid, Bullet (Lucas Yeeda), whose absentee father TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) and neglectful mother Nella (Ngaire Pigram) drive him to a life of delinquency. It's also the story of the father himself heading over from Perth to see the son he's never met, and the parallels between the two characters are intense: when we first cut away to the father, it took me a few minutes to realise this wasn't a time jump to the kid as an adult. The son has never been directly affected by his father, a fact which is powerful whenever we're reminded that these two are on the exact same path.

Writer/director Brendan Fletcher resists cliché and stereotype, and there's not a single false not in the entire film. Superficially, it's gorgeous, with stunning cinematography by Allan Collins, and an unforgettable score by Alex Lloyd and Alan & Stephen Pigram (the Pigram brothers also being two of the film's producers).

The film's only fault -- and one that may be entirely subjective -- is its pace. It lacks the momentum I felt it needed to truly impress, but as that issue is fading the more I think back on the film, it's possible that this complaint will disappear with a second viewing.

Filled with extraordinary, naturalistic performances, and an assured directorial hand, MAD BASTARDS is an inspired work that is affecting, real and masterful.

DVD REVIEWS

KNOWN PLEASURES BOX SET (February 16, Region 4)

The film: This box set about the the band Joy Division is a stroke of genius, thanks to Madman's comprehensive title stock. Anton Corbijn's CONTROL (2005) is a painting, a beautifully-restrained portrait of lead singer Ian Curtis and the demons that ate away at him. Corbijn's own control over the material makes this one of the better biopics of recent times, and essential viewing. The second film in the set is called, simply, JOY DIVISION (2007). It's a documentary by Grant Gee, and it's both definitive and, at a taut 74 minutes, tightly-paced. Just as the best of recent biographical documentaries have told a parallel story of the protagonist's city (ie: Liverpool in OF TIME AND CITY by Terence Davies; Winnipeg in MY WINNIPEG by Guy Madden), this film is as much about the band as it is about Manchester in the 1970s, the feeling of lost identity and hopelessness echoed in both. The final film in the set is Michael Winterbottom's 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (2002), the brilliant film about Tony Wilson, the man who would go on to manage Joy Division. If you haven't seen it, this one of Winterbottom's best, with Steve Coogan both hilarious and thoroughly believable as Wilson. That all three films work in their own right is astonishing; this must surely be one of those rare themed compilation box sets that doesn't contain any lesser filler.

The extras: All these editions had a bevy of special features on their own, so combined they are somewhat awe inspiring: CONTROL has interviews, a Making Of documentaries, a commentary track, extended performances of recorded songs, B-roll footage, behind the scenes clips, and the original theatrical trailer; JOY DIVISION complements its 74 minute running time with 75 minutes of extras, including outtakes and interviews not used in the main feature, and the film's original theatrical trailer; 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE takes the cake with its second disc, and includes multiple audio commentaries, twenty-four (!) deleted scenes, interviews, a New Order music video, a Who's Who doco, the film's theatrical trailer, and that's all just the first disc. There's so much more on the second disc, I'm going to refrain from typing the rest out lest I break AICN's severs.

Should you buy it: This is a contender for best release of the year. Joy Division fans will, of course, want to buy it, but this is a set I would recommend to anyone who hasn't even heard of Joy Division. The films all work on their own terms, with no prior knowledge of fannishness necessary. Simply put, you have to pick up this set.

THE MESSENGER (February 16, Region 4)

The film: This drama about soldiers whose job it is to inform family members that their loved ones have been killed in action could so easily have slipped off the rails. Even worse, it could have been fine, a well-intentioned piece that fails to connect. And, to be honest, I was thinking it would be the latter. What it turned out to be was a finely-honed film that understood its own possibilities on every level. It's a showcase for just how good Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster can be, and the nuance with which the characters unfold is extraordinary. All I have to add to my original review of the film is that it's even better the second time.

The extras: The Blu-Ray edition I'm reviewing features a commentary with Foster, Harrelson, producer Lawrence Inglee, and director/co-writer Oren Moverman. There's a doco about the notification process, which is the sort of essential background piece that digital media was created for. There's an on-set piece called Going Home, a Q&A with the cast and crew, and the original theatrical trailer.

Should you buy it: This is the sort of war movie that simply could not be made fifty years ago, and it stands as one of the best of its genre. One to buy.

DOGTOOTH (February 16, Region 4)

The film: One of this year's Foreign Language Oscar nominees was a film from Greece that is the sort of extreme film you expect institutions like the Academy to ignore. Here's the concept: a husband and wife have kept their fully-grown children ignorant of the world outside, spinning stories of threats to keep them within their walls. There are a lot of different stories that suggest themselves from that setup, and DOGTOOTH takes one of the least obvious routes. It is oddly static, revealing information in a piecemeal fashion, and shaking its world with surprising restraints. I'm not sure it's the best possibly iteration of the idea, but it's still a powerful one with every bit the impact it aims for.

The extras: Deleted scenes and the film's brilliant theatrical trailer.

Should you buy it: It will delight some and anger others, but it's a film that demands to be seen.

NEXT WEEK

- Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy will discuss life as they wander around an underground World War One bunker in BENEATH SUNRISE 60

- Roger and Jessica Rabbit mourn the death of their litter in the riotous family melodrama WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT HOLE?

- Baz Luhrmann to remake THE GREAT GATSBY in 3D

Latauro
AICNDownunder@hotmail.com



Readers Talkback

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  • March 4, 2011, 9:52 p.m. CST

    watch INCEPTION again

    by frank cotton

    i can't be the only one who noticed this - he's at the airport, he's walkin' and talkin' with MICHAEL CAINE, and then suddenly, with no cut, right before he spins the top, which distracts everyone (i didn't catch it the first time, either), he's at the backdoor of some house, and seeing his kids; he's clearly not still at the airport, it's supposed to BE his, or rather his dad's, house, how the hell did he get there? if this is so, he's still dreaming. would have posted this back at the POTD thread, but that's about over, now

  • March 5, 2011, 2:02 p.m. CST

    frank cotton

    by TheMcflyFarm

    Umm, I'm pretty sure everybody noticed he wasn't in the airport anymore. He left the airport and went to the house. Nolan just cut out everything in between. That's how he cuts a lot of scenes in his movies. I don't think that was meant to prove either way whether he was dreaming or not.

  • March 5, 2011, 5:15 p.m. CST

    Yeah frank, it's called editing

    by Happyfat73

    Unless you want to watch him putting his luggage in the boot of his car, driving home, getting luggage out of the boot and walking up the pathway to his house...

  • March 7, 2011, 1:28 p.m. CST

    Dogtooth

    by Azby

    Am I the only one who noticed this was a comedy? An extremely black, disturbing comedy, but a comedy nonetheless.