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AICN-Downunder: The Passion; The Money; Mona Lisa Smile; Yin; Futile Attraction; Outback; King Kong

Father Geek here with Latauro and his regular weekly report... plus his take on the coming Academy Awards. It's a lengthy report this week soooo I'll just step aside and let you get to it...

I don't think I can go a year without a hot plate.


It's that time again (you know you?re excited). That time when we pray the films and people we like win over the ones we don?t. This year, we're thankful that Harvey Weinstein didn't succeed in his gimmegimmegimme campaign. We're disappointed that the ban on screeners mean there?ll be no upset, no award for the small foreign indie film no one would have seen otherwise. We're happy that Akiva Goldsman isn?t nominated for anything. We?re cautiously satisfied that although no one really takes the Oscars all that seriously, at least it's not the Golden Globes. And, Latauro being the list-making obsessee that he is, means that you?re about to get a terribly clever list of who he (thinks is) going to win.

BEST PICTURE ? There seems to be two schools of thought on this one. There are the people who say that LORD OF THE RINGS hasn't won last year or the year before, so obviously it won't win this year. Then there are the people who say that the Academy has been waiting for RETURN OF THE KING all this time so they can reward the makers for all three films in one go. Me? I think that Andrew Lesnie won for cinematography two years ago and didn't get nominated this year. They gave him one award for all three, and pretty much said that he's already got his. This isn?t the Emmys where you can win for the same performance over and over again. This is LORD OF THE RINGS?s year, and it?s going home with the Big One.

BEST DIRECTOR ? See Best Picture. There's no way you can go from Obscurity to Godhood and not get rewarded for it. Clint may have made a dramatic masterpiece, Sofia may have given us a new benchmark for subtlety, but Peter changed cinema as we know it. The golden man is moving to New Zealand.

BEST ACTOR ? I walked out of MYSTIC RIVER believing that Sean Penn was going to win Best Actor. It's not just that his performance was thoroughly worthy of it, but we all know these things are, in many ways, career achievement awards. Judi Dench won for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE because she should have won for MRS BROWN. The only upset could be Bill Murray. I personally believe he deserves it as much as Penn, but these things are all politics. Murray?s not likely to be nominated again, but Penn almost definitely will be. Voters are going to take this into consideration, and even though I believe it?ll be close, I?m putting my tick next to Penn.

BEST ACTRESS ? I?m going to have to be unpatriotic (although I?m not endorsing, just placing statistical bets) and avoid Naomi for this one. Part of me thinks Keisha Castle-Hughes will surprise us, but most of me expects Charlize Theron to get the Ugly Transformation Award (or Best Actress, as it?s more publicly known).

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR ? After walking out of ROTK, I confidently stated that Sean Astin would get this award. It was the win I was most confident of. As it stands, his snub is one of the great injustices in Oscar history, but I won?t dwell on it too much here. I?m putting my money on Tim Robbins... and also on the music cutting him off less than seven seconds into his speech.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS ? This is the toughest one, the outsider. Traditionally, Supporting Actress is the hardest one to pick, so I?m going to make any pretenses about knowing who the Sure Win or Surprise Upset will be. Instead, I?ll guess Renée Zellweger... though no surprise will register on my countenance if Shohreh Aghdashloo gets it.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY ? Wouldn?t it be wonderful to see FINDING NEMO get this? After all, Pixar is the tightest storytelling machine in the world right now, and it?d be cool to see them rewarded as such. It?ll end up in the hands of Sofia, however. LOST IN TRANSLATION was beautifully written, and they?re going to want to recognise it after it misses out on Film, Director and Actor.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY ? Even though I?d love this one to go to ROTK (and to see Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyans get overly-deserved recognition), I think it?ll end up going to MYSTIC RIVER. The Academy will reward LOTR for its scope and majesty, but when it comes to the art of the written word they will choose to reward the Respectable Drama?.

I won?t go through the others (although I suspect SEABISCUIT will get Best Cinematography), but those are my predictions for the big?uns. Anyone else care to speculate? Space has been provided below...


* KING KONG is gearing up, oh yes, oh yes. For those of us (read: those of me) who were sorry to see an end to the collaborations that brought about LOTR, Peter Jackson has just confirmed that the KONG production (shooting in New Zealand later this year) now includes Andrew Lesine as Director of Photography, Grant Major as Production Designer, Dan Hennah as Supervising Art Director, WETA and Richard Taylor working on the FX, and Howard Shore back on scoring duties.

* Uh-oh. Tim Robbins, not content with pissing off the far right, has begun pissing off the far south. During the SAG Awards last week, Tim Robbins was quoted as saying, ?Without unions, we?d be working eighteen hours a day, six days a week. But we get overtime. Except in Australia.? The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance filed a complaint, prompting the Screen Actors Guild to promise a statement on its website correcting Robbins?s remarks.

* Who likes cultural comedy? Eh? Anyone? Well, regardless, filmmaker Ross Clarkson has almost finished getting the cash together for his film OUTBACK. Set to start lensing in April, the action comedy will be set in both Hong Kong and Outback Queensland. No word yet on casting... or plot... or catering...

* Spare a thought for Mark Prebble. In fact, spare a bit more than that. New Zealand-based Mark directed his first film FUTILE ATTRACTION in Wellington 2002. The film is a mockumentary about a film crew involved in a reality TV show. They follow a couple brought together by a dating agency, only the couple are so compatible the film crew is forced to manipulate the their relationship to get the footage they need... Shot with a budget of US$19 000, the film stars Michelle Ang (XENA; ?Neighbours?) and Alistair Browning (RETURN OF THE KING; VERTICAL LIMIT). The production has since run out of money, and Mark is looking for contributions. In exchange, you?ll receive a credit (ranging from ?Thanks To? to ?Executive Producer?). Mark?s received a lot of response in the past few weeks, with people organising fundraising activities. But he?s still got a way to go, so rock on over to and do what the big studios don?t: help an independent filmmaker finish his vision.



Gary Eck won the big award at the 2004 Tropfest short film festival for his film THE MONEY (judged by, amongst others, Salma Hayak and Josh Lucas). For a brief rundown of the night, head down to the Reviews section.


My prediction that MONA LISA SMILE would dominate the box office this week turned out to be accurate. My prediction that ONE PERFECT DAY would do something similar was completely off the mark. OPD ended up at spot number seven, viewers turned off by the uninspiring trailer. UNDER THE TUSCAN sun was a surprise hit, given it?s only playing in arthouse cinemas. The next few weeks will give us the usual post-Oscar deluge of nominated and winning films.

Annnnd the winners are...
  • 5. BIG FISH


Johnny Depp continues his supporting show-stealing, and Mel Gibson finally answers the question ?What Would The Jesus Do??

Here's the new ones down here...


Howdy. Been seeing a lot lately (including ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO, which may or may not review next week), and hope to finally catch 21 GRAMS in the coming days. It's annoying but typical that many of the Oscar-nominated films haven't come out yet, but I?m sure their promotional campaigns will depend a lot on the outcome of the big ceremony. In the meantime...


I'd never been to a Tropfest before, or for that matter a short film festival that didn?t contain an entry by myself or anyone I knew. And, to be completely honest, I only went for the socialising aspect. There were about thirty of us (twenty of whom I knew) crowded onto a bunch of blankets strewn across the top of the hill at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. Why wasn?t I all that interested in the films? Despite not going to see them live, I had seen a lot of the past entries and most of them were your typical Australian shorts: setup followed by gag ending.

And yes, this year did have its share of gag endings, but there was a lot more on offer. The audience-voted best film was YIN, a beautiful and subtext-filled animation in the style of (sorry, yes, I?m going to say it) Miyazaki.

The winning film, THE MONEY, was pretty dodgy on dialogue and acting, but the idea and ending was excellent and very much a crowd-pleaser.

The biggest flops on the night weren?t actually the one-joke films. The ones that fell on their faces were the dramas. Dramas are the hardest things to get right, and even harder when your audience is a large crowd of twenty somethings who have been drinking beer all night. Still, Tropfest has given rise to a group of local filmmakers in the past, most notably Gregor Jordan (TWO HANDS, BUFFALO SOLDIERS, NED KELLY), so maybe we?ll be hearing these names again in the near future.


I don't think there was a word or moment in this film that I wasn?t expecting. I mean, how could we not know what was coming? Julia Roberts teaches a group of girls to stop conforming and do what they want. And, okay, fine, I?ll admit it: the only real reason I was there was for the cast. Lots of pretty girls, together at last.

The story itself is bordering on non-existent: a liberal, forward-thinking teacher (whose ideals, naturally, reflect those of the time in which the film was produced) uses her unorthodox methods to teach a group of girls that there?s more to life than being a wife.

A friend said that you know exactly what you get when you cast Julia Roberts; there?s never going to be any depth, she?s never going to do anything other than play Julia Roberts. I get what he means, but I disagree.

After all, that was what I did when I heard about ERIN BROCKOVICH. I couldn?t believe someone was willing to make a film that sounded so boring. A film I was so unwilling to see. Of course, when I saw THE LIMEY and realised how good Steven Soderbergh was, I went out and saw BROCKOVICH. Julia Roberts does not play herself in that film. I don?t feel like I?m watching her go through the motions when I see the film... in fact, I don?t feel like I?m watching *her*. She?s capable of playing a character completely different from her usual on-screen persona, and I don?t think casting her is akin to waving the white flag.

Only, she is pretty much playing herself in this film. She does it well, just as Jack Nicholson does when he?s playing himself. But this is an easy-to-swallow film, and its intended audience is mostly interested in seeing Julia playing Julia.

The rest of the girls are the real focus of the film. They each have their own story, and though those stories may not be overly-developed or contain much depth, they do give these girls a chance to stretch. Kirstin Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Gennifer Goodwin each bring more to their roles than existed on the printed page. In the hands of the teeny bopper crop, they would have been one-dimensional. Their dialogue would have been singular in meanings. They would have been annoying. Sure, they?re all wonderful as eye candy, but they made the film watchable.

Mike Nichols, on the other hand, is a director I have a big problem with. I love FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, I think it's brilliantly written and acted, but the direction is terrible. It?s really bad. I don?t know what film he thought he was making, but it could well have ruined the film if the other elements weren?t so good. It?s why I?m nervous about him doing the fourth HARRY POTTER film. More than any of the others, more than PRISONER OF AZKABAN, GOBLET OF FIRE is only going to work if the direction is top-notch.

It's going to need an auteur who knows how to reign in a massive film if it?s going to succeed, and I think Nichols is the wrong person for the job. His direction of MONA LISA is perfunctory at best. It adds nothing to the film, and seems to cement his desired reputation as A-lister-for-hire. Someone who can shoot the script. I?m sure he?s brilliant with actors as his films tend to contain excellent performances, but you need more as a director. You need to bring more to the film than what?s written.

Ultimately, MONA LISA SMILE is exactly the film you know it?s going to be. There are some nice moments (the scene with Julias Stiles and Roberts towards the end), and some confusingly ineffectual ones (who really cares if Dominic West was lying?), but it?s relatively satisfying, though thoroughly schmaltzy. The big problem is that (to overuse the analogy) it?s DEAD POETS SOCIETY LITE. It?s the female version of the film, but made easy so chicks can understand it. And without wanting to get too postmodern, doesn?t that whole concept contradict the message it's trying to promote?


I couldn't wait to see this film when it was announced. I was hanging out for it. Not because of the subject matter, but because Gibson was apparently going to shoot it in Latin and Aramaic and *not* use subtitles. Brilliant. Though subtitles are necessary to see all the terrific films we wouldn?t normally be able to (short of dubbing or actually learning the language), they are the ultimate reminder we?re watching a film. It?s hard to get sucked into something when you?re always reading text to translate what?s going on (though many foreign language films have been brilliant enough to suck me in). Here was a promise of, as Gibson said, a return to silent filmmaking. Showing everything you need to see without saying it. Really taking control of the medium.

But there *are* subtitles. And I find it difficult to believe that this was a film designed not to have them. There are too many moments that are keyed towards dialogue-based revelations, and I think the decision to include subtitles was made far earlier than we realise. The reason I'm focusing on this is because technically, PASSION is a fairly perfect film. There?s no doubt Gibson knows how to direct a film, even if he does prefer Big Moments over subtlety. Every aspect of technicality, and every performance, is directed with such expertise it?s hard to believe that this is his part-time job. The problem is that I understood what was happening.

I'm Jewish... and I've been bothered by the fact that non-Jews are constantly insisting that the film isn't anti-Semitic. I wouldn?t presume to tell gays that BRAVEHEART doesn't contain elements of homophobia, because though I'm able to recognise it, I can't reasonably tell someone not to get offended by something. I'm not offended by ?South Park? because it's Cartman who?s being intolerant. It?s a satire. The problem comes when the line between Filmmaker's Statement and Filmmaker's Opinion is murky, or perceived to be murky. And yes, I felt the Evil Jews were cast with people who have big noses and the Good Jews (Jesus included) looked very Anglo-Saxon... but I wasn't offended, mostly because to me this is just Mel Gibson's Opinion. I'm not convinced it's anti-Semitic and I'm not convinced it's *not* anti-Semitic, but sure as hell I'm not going to tell another Jew to not be offended by it because, yes, we are portrayed as the villains of the piece whilst the Romans come off pretty well, comparatively. This is something that bothers me, but it's not my biggest problem with it.

No, my problem is with the desire Gibson had to be historically accurate (historical being the key word here). Alarm bells are going off. When the Bible is interpreted as a parable, it's a source of inspiration that a lot of people in the world draw their faith from. When it's interpreted as literal fact, it can become a dangerous, segregating work of propaganda that excuses intolerance and promotes war. If you have a problem with this statement, go to the Gaza Strip. Go to Northern Island.

I honestly don't know which of the above ways Gibson is going with. His crowing about historical accuracy would suggest that he's going with the literal interpretation... but then, we see Satan. Satan is the wildcard here that stops me from deciphering whether this is intended as a realistic portrayal of the Middle East two thousand years ago, or whether the entire thing is, in fact, leaning towards the metaphorical. Maybe this is all academic, but it's the x-factor and it unsettles me.

A lot of religious figures are giving their opinions, and quite publicly. The Pope said that it is as it was, suggesting that either he was there or he has more information to go on than the rest of us. Others are saying that it's an unparalleled work of power... and I can't help feeling that this is, effectively, the first film they've seen. There's been a lot of revolutionary cinema in the past twenty years, and none of it is pitched at church groups and religious leaders. Yes, it's powerful. But so was FIGHT CLUB. So was LOST HIGHWAY. So was SPIRITED AWAY.

I could write thousands more words on this, and I've had to reign myself in so I can focus on my point: that this is a technically brilliant film that will cause endless amounts of controversy, and I don't even know how I feel about it yet. Not really. I'm not going to disagree with people who say it may ignite racism, but I don't feel that?s necessarily accurate. Gibson has walked a very fine line, dangerously balancing on a tight rope, and I think his regard for the trouble it may or may not cause was discarded in favour of the inevitable promotional hype.


- Hilary Swank will get the record for longest acceptance speech when she again continues to thank people during this year's ceremony

- Harvey Weinstein will graciously accept the award for Best Picture on behalf of anyone who wins it

- Riots will rock the streets of LA when Sandy McLeod and Gini Reticker beat out Maryann DeLeo for the Oscar.

Peace out,


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