Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with Latauro's new AICN-Downunder report! He's got lotsa ground to cover so I'll let him get to it!
Can I suggest something that doesn?t involve violence, or is this the wrong crowd for that?
I've seen a lot of new films the past fortnight. Well, not a lot. Three. But considering how little time I have, that feels like a lot. Two of them left me cold, and one was everything I'd hoped it would be (see below), but they were all eclipsed by a couple of films from my grandparents' era.
In the past, I've spoken of the Astor Theatre in Melbourne as being the greatest there is. Further proof of that is the Charlie Chaplin double they recently ran: MODERN TIMES and THE GREAT DICTATOR.
Now, I've managed to go a quarter of a century (or thereabouts) without having seen a feature-length Chaplin film. I?ve seen plenty of shorts, and plenty of clips from his features, but never a film start to finish.
GREAT DICTATOR was fantastic, and once I overcame the shock of seeing Chaplin speak, I was in awe of his ear for dialogue (and ability to deliver it). The film's amazing - even more amazing when you realise it was made at the start of the war, and he couldn't possibly have known the true natures of the people he was lampooning. Chaplin said if he'd known during the film what he knew after the war, he'd have never made it. I'm glad he did. Somehow it seems even more important than SCHINDLER'S LIST or THE PIANIST. Or, er, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL. *cough*
But as much as I loved DICTATOR, I must wax about MODERN TIMES. If anyone ever puts a gun to my head and forces me to list the top ten films of all time (for I would only ever limit myself to ten under duress), MODERN TIMES would be a cert. My father insists that CITY LIGHTS is Chaplin's true masterpiece, but until I see that I'm going to continue to believe that TIMES cannot be topped.
Other than Chaplin, the common thread between the two films is Paulette Goddard. While she may be remembered more for her scandalous relationship with Chaplin, Goddard in MODERN TIMES would have to certify her as one of the great screen beauties of all time. Rarely has an actress fit so perfectly into a role.
The prints I saw were glorious, and I'm hoping that the ones used for the recent DVD editions are of similar quality. If you've held off on these films because catching up on old films feels like "work", stop kidding yourself. There may not be a new release this year that matches the entertainment value of these films.
You gotta admire his determination. Lurhmann is still planning on making his ALEXANDER THE GREAT project, even after Stone's theatrical bomb. Whether Scorsese is going to let Leo out to shoot it is another matter, but for now it looks like the project's still on the burner. It's now joined by two other projects that Bazmark is looking at. One is an Australian outback romance (which, if hazy memories serve me right, may star Our Nic and Their Russ), and the other is a WWI epic, of which I know nothing. That won't stop me from referring to it hereon as BAZ-COUGH.
Dark Horizons, the global phenomenon run from a Gaston Leroux-like lair deep beneath the Sydney Opera House, has reported that Tom Williams (who, I'm told on good authority, was spawned from the local reality TV sperm bank) has been ab-marked by Hugh Jackman for WOLVERINE. Apparently impressed by dancers (Hugh is a stage toe-tapper), Jackman saw tapes of Williams in Channel Seven's DANCING WITH THE STARS and decided he was right for the X-MEN spinoff. With any luck, this means we'll see Wolverine tapping off against Apocalypse, ZIEGFELD FOLLIES-style. If that's the case, then my ticket is bought. Thanks to 'Lennox'.
Looks like the trailer for the Kiwi Roger Donaldson's THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN is up. To check out Anthony Hopkins on wheels, go to this site! Thanks to both 'Paul' and 'The Dodo'.
Bucking Baccarin'?, who has a name that makes disturbing sense the more I think about it, has written to let Sydneysiders know that just because all of your arthouse cinemas are closing down, there's no reason to be upset. (Actually, there's plenty of reason to be upset, but this might help.) NIGHTWATCH will be screening as part of Sydney's Russian Film Festival on September 9. If you want to catch it ahead of its October release, click on this link.
Local lass Rose Byrne will join THE UNTITLED SUNSHINE PROJECT (far more catchy that the original SUNSHINE title, guys) for director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Alex Gardland. The SF film is set fifty years in the future and features a dying sun threatening to wipe out mankind. Sounds nice and happy.
The first project from the Screen Actors Studio will be an adaptation of local author Margaret Clarke's 'The Chickabess'. The film will, in all wish-fulfillment earnestness, follow a group of young girls who attempt to become a big famous rock band. If the film features an extended cameo by The Spazzys, then Latauro's ticket is bought.
Sydneysiders depressed about (a) not living in Melbourne, and (b) the closure of the city's arthouse cinemas may be in luck. The Valhalla cinema may soon re-open, with a 'consortium' planning to buy the lot at auction, and vamp it up into a cinema that plays both classic films and new releases. And if that's not enough, Melbourne is but a two hour flight away!
Well, seems like the call-to-arms for South Australians to order 9 SONGS from online retailers was a bit premature. While the decision may be appealed in the near future, SA residents have been banned from Michael Winterbottom's dreamlike film of interweaving music and sex. Online store EzyDVD has stopped selling the product online (as you can see right here) so as to avoid the ten grand fine it might incur if it accidentally ships to a SA resident. You can, however, order it from Amazon.co.uk by clicking on this link and following the prompts. It'll cost slightly more than buying it from a local shop, and significantly less than having your freedoms trampled upon by hypocrites. Happy buying!
AWARDS AND FESTIVALS
TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Troubled New Zealand film RIVER QUEEN will make its debut at the Canadian film festival. Director Vincent Ward and terrorist decapitator Keifer Sutherland will join producers Don Reynolds and Chris Auty to present the film. Those with poor memories and unlimited bandwidth will want to check out the exclusive photos we ran last week at this link.
No massive surprise here. Wilson and Vaughn were always going to dominate the box office for a while. The success of nearly everything else here is as depressing as it usually is, so I won't repeat myself.
1. WEDDING CRASHERS
2. THE SKELETON KEY
5. KICKING AND SCREAMING
RELEASED THESE TWO WEEKS PAST
Freddie Highmore sets himself up for a career in dentistry, the least successful tourism brochure for Tanzania hits the screens, John Waters makes the cleanest ever sex-obsessed movie, Gus Van Sant shows less devotion to the details of Kurt Cobain's life than he did to a fictitious film about a bloke who dressed up like his mother, Stacy Peralta steals the credit that rightly belongs to Marty McFly, Todd Solondz fails to realise that 'Semordnilap' doesn't mean anything, two geniuses take a two hour film and bend it to a seventy-seven minute running time, Laura Linney does a belated 'Brady Bunch' audition ('Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!') and Wes Craven gets an idea for a film after sitting through SCREAM 3.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
A DIRTY SHAME
LORDS OF DOGTOWN
Before I launch into them, I'm going to break habit for a moment and point out that GODDESS OF 1967 is now available to buy in Region 4 DVD. Regular readers may remember me loudly proclaiming this as the best Australian film ever made. Many will likely disagree, so I'll amend that by saying it's my favourite. Any locals depressed by YOU AND YOUR STUPID MATE and its ilk would do well to pick this one up.
(big shiny spoilers)
Two messages appeared on my phone a few weeks ago when I left the confines of the AICN-D Coral Lair and got back into mobile range. The first was from a friend saying, 'Um, I just logged on to the Village website and they're selling SERENITY tickets... is this right?'. The second was from the same friend, left five minutes later, saying, 'Okay, I just booked a bunch. Looks like we're going in two weeks.' I called him back. Apparently they sold out about ten minutes later. The window was small, such is the power of the Melbourne Whedonites.
There are a lot of them, too. While never a ratings smash, 'Buffy' and 'Angel' hit it big down here. Before it even screened in Australia, the 'Firefly' DVD went on sale, and sold pretty well. My own 'Buffy'/'Angel' collection has been sitting pretty on my shelf for a while now, and the name 'Joss Whedon' was enough to ensure I'd pick up 'Firefly' sight unseen.
It's hard to take the haters seriously. Whedon gets to the heart of a story better than anyone. His character handling is better than anyone else's. His dialogue crackles, and scene for scene he's more entertaining than just about everyone else in the game. I came to this opinion whilst emersed in the Buffyverse, and yet I believe that with 'Firefly' he's improved on every single one of those levels. In fact, I've recommended people don't watch 'Firefly' because they're better off not knowing. If they're anything like me, they'll halfway through the last disc before their heart leaps up into their throat at the realisation that this is all there is. There isn't six and a half more seasons of this to revel in. There aren't going to be massive journeys, new characters, complete one-eighties. I recently showed the entire series to my father, and he almost wouldn't let me play the last episode; he couldn't stand the idea of there being nothing left to see.
So, I've been hanging out for SERENITY quite a bit. Behind KING KONG and HITCHHIKER'S, it's been my most anticipated film of the year. I had to see more of the crew. I had to see what he'd be able to do with an enlarged budget and a comparatively enormous shooting schedule. So, here's the shock revelation:
As a continuation of the series 'Firefly', I don't really love SERENITY.
As a stand-alone film, I think it's absolutely brilliant.
To qualify the first statement, I should point out that it comes from a desire - no matter how impossible it is - to see seven seasons of this show made. I don't think any film could make up for cancellation, so it's a bit of an impossible expectation.
The other problem I have there is that, in part, it feels like Whedon is trying to tell the big seven-year arc over the course of two hours. On the other hand, knowing how he likes to mix things up, this was probably the second half of the first season. But still, to do it in two hours instead of ten gives a bit of a rushed feeling. Of course, the day before I saw the film I'd just finished a complete 'Firefly' marathon, so my head was still in that space.
Obviously, it's unfair to judge it as a continuation of the series when it can't possibly be that. It's like complaining that the adaptation of your favourite book didn't adhere to every single sentence. It's a different format. It?s a different kind of storytelling. It's not what you've seen before.
As a film, I couldn't love it more. I didn't know how he was going to explain who all the crew were, what they did, who the hitchhikers were, what the world they inhabited was, etc, etc, without confusing all the newbies in the audience. I didn't think it could be done. (Part of me didn't care; I wanted this film just for me, I didn't give a toss if nobody else got it.) And this is just one of the many reasons that I'm not Joss Whedon. He did it in such a brilliant way, I wanted to cheer. He managed to avoid showing us anything we'd seen before, but still managed to recap everything and catch everyone up. It's so effortlessly handled, you think 'Oh, well, obviously that's how you'd do it!' but I wouldn't like to imagine the stomach ulcers the man had to endure when trying to figure it all out.
The first big crew scene follows a heist they're pulling on an outer planet. It's not a complicated heist, and it doesn't seem like they'll be any trouble, but there's a bombshell dropped in there that was truly frightening. It's almost undoubtedly the scene that was played for Warner Bros right before the WONDER WOMAN announcement. The man can direct for the big screen.
I know I've give a spoiler warning above, but I just can't do it. There are going to be some people who don't have the self-control, and I can't ruin it for them. I will say, though, that I was actually angry with Whedon for a certain character death that occurs during the film. I even refused to believe it for a while. I've since come around, but it shows just how much he's able to make you invest in his characters.
The performances are all top-notch. Jewel Staite may look a little awkward trying to re-adjust to Kaylee's overalls, but everyone's on their game. Nathan Fillion, one of the big reasons 'Firefly' was as brilliant as it was, really shows off his leading man chops, and fans of the show will be jumping in their seats at some of the interplay between Fillion and Adam Baldwin. Chiwetel Ejiofor, the clear highlight of both DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and MELINDA AND MELINDA, is as perfectly menacing as you could hope. There are some scenes where he doesn't quite match the intense screen presence of Richard Brooks (who played a similar assassin character in the show's brilliant finale, OBJECTS IN SPACE), but his gentle ferocity makes him a worthy Big Bad.
I'll wind this review up, as it's mostly fanboy gibberish, but you know what? Whedon brings out the fanboy in me, and that's what all great filmmakers do. When everything is this good, you just want to go on and on about it. The screening we were at was packed to the brim with fans. The session started over half an hour late because we were all forced to give up our phones and cameras up to security at the door. (A personal highlight was overhearing someone I used to go to school with joking with his friends about taking pictures and sending them into Ain't It Cool News... I got a good chuckle out of that.)
If you haven't been to one of the many advance screenings that have taken place around the globe, then you're in for a real treat when it gets its release. I'm talking to all of you; 'Firefly' fans and people who have never seen the show (for there can be only two categories). It's honestly as great as you're hoping.
It starts promisingly. In comic book fashion, we're given a bit of a background to our guy's family. It's a world of superheroes, and his parents are the big guns. Almost as suddenly, we're introduced to his family life, and for the most part these jokes work as well. Yes, for the first ten minutes or so of SKY HIGH, it looked to be pretty good. I was settling myself in for what looked like a fun ride.
Then, unfortunately, it descends into a compilation of every film you've ever seen. It's basically HARRY POTTER meshed with THE INCREDIBLES, a bit of SPIDER-MAN-lite teen angst thrown in, and filled out with the plot of every Disney TV movie I can remember.
The clichÃ©s quickly drive the film to middle-of-the-road. What could have been a great, Pixar-like film instead becomes a watered-down version of itself. When I say you've seen this film before, I mean you've really seen this film before. All the jokes have been road tested in countless other films, and reek of mollification. I mean, how many films can use Spandau Ballet's 'True' to denote a comical-romantic scene before we all admit it got old over a decade ago? It?s safe humour. It won't upset anyone.
The best part of the film is Kurt Russell, who takes a lot of pleasure in his superhero dad role. Unfortunately, he's really the only one in the cast who gets to do anything entertaining. Dave Foley is pretty good as an ex-sidekick, but all of his scenes (which involve pointing out the clichÃ©s in sidekicks... you know, 'Holy blank, Blankman!') don't really feel that edgy. They're not making fun of anything that hasn?t been made fun of a million times before, and therefore isn't really that funny.
Even The Chin didn't do it for me. He wasn't bad - how could Bruce be bad? - but his inclusion as clearly a desperate attempt to win over the geek crowd. The filmmakers even admit this in the press notes! Likewise, Linda Carter in her principal non-role is simply stunt casting.
I was expecting a lot more from this film. Maybe I was being optimistic (how often does Disney produce great entertainment without Pixar to prop them up?), but I was expecting higher quality than a midday movie. My own fault, I suppose.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
There's a wonderful contradiction in the two adaptations of Roald Dahl's book, and they both lie in the title. WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is about Charlie Bucket, how he resists (nearly) all temptation to eventually receive the ultimate gift. It's a redemptive tale, almost religious in its morality. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is about Willy Wonka, and his desire to reunite with his father. Both films are supposed to be the ultimate child fantasy, but both are bogged down by presumptive adult interference.
Now, I'm a big fan of the original film. WILLY WONKA is brilliant, and not just for Gene Wilder's performance (though that is the major factor). Whilst the film suffers from random musical numbers that serve only to slow the film down to a snail's pace, the characters and the production design and the overall journey are terrific. It's a film that stands up today, and I was wondering why anyone - beyond the obvious commercial reasons - would feel the need to remake it.
Burton gets a lot right. The opening pre-Chocolate Factory sequence is terrific. His gothic fantasy style (though severely Hollywoodised over his past few films) suits the story perfectly. The man's name is often spoken in the same breath as Gilliam's, but Burton usually comes off the worse. Gilliam is one of the few working filmmakers who is operating on every level. His films can be appreciated purely for their entertainment value, or you can stop and look at how any given frame is a massively complex comment on society and the underlying themes of the story. Burton, on the other hand, works only on the surface level, a fact that caused the potentially-great BIG FISH to suffer, but seems to work for CHARLIE. At least, for the first act. (Note: I haven't caught BROTHERS GRIMM yet; all of the Gilliam stuff refers to everything up until his poorly-reviewed film.)
Burton, along with John August, a screenwriter whose work I usually enjoy, then decides to drop the ball the moment all the tickets are found. The scenes inside the factory seem designed to remind us of the previous film. They're cursory, updated, unexplained. We quickly jump through each scene, dumping kids one by one until only Charlie is left. It's then that he wins the factory, and it's thrown away so matter-of-factly I wondered if I'd misheard.
Charlie is shown to be a saint throughout the entire film, not faltering once, not learning anything at any point. This magical child is aptly played by Freddie Highmore, and few other kids could pull off the role as convincingly or sympathetically as he. Still, one must wonder what children think of him and the film. I saw it with a theatre full of excited children (the little girl behind was proclaiming it to be the best film she'd ever seen, even before the curtains had parted). They seemed to love the first third, fell silent for the second, and became restless for the third. You could put it down to many different things, but there and then in the theatre it felt like they just didn't care about Wonka's paternal issues.
It's hard to blame them, too. This film is supposed to be a total fantasy for kids. They want to be Charlie, they want to see this place. It's very hard to relate to any character that remains perfect from start to finish. The support kids - all terrifically cast - are easier to identify with! Although it was a little jarring when the Oompa Loompas did their post-child songs. The songs themselves are brilliant, and Danny Elfman should receive appropriate credit for his great work. The problem lies, I must say, with Roald Dahl's original lyrics (though it's been a while since I've read the book, the titles do credit him with writing them, so I'll take them at their word). WILLY WONKA, though hitting the point a little firmly on the head, at least pointed out what was wrong with each child. It was a cautionary tale, and I for one loved it. But that was the point. Even Charlie had his own breaking point; the difference was that he recognised it.
When it becomes clear that the film is actually about Wonka (his issues with his father; what his first grey hair represents... all stuff kids love to see), the film loses what potential it had. While I loved Depp's performance, it's perhaps a little too self-consciously quirky. He's trying a little too hard to distance himself from Gene Wilder's Wonka. The Wilder Wonka may have been a little off-the-rails, but you always got the sense that there was a master plan. He knew what he was doing, and could recognise good kids from bad kids. The Depp Wonka just seems like a sociopath who'll take whichever kid is the last one standing. While Depp's Wonka has moments of brilliance, he has just as many moments where Burton lets him run, assuming that seeing Wonka do his thing is entertainment enough. It's not, and those moments of lazy direction do Depp a great disservice.
Many kids are going to love the chocolate machines, but there's not much beyond that, and not even much of them. The film seems more like Burton's middle-aged insecurities, and I can't think of anyone under the age of eighteen who would be even a little interested in that.
- The recently-found Scout Taylor-Compton reprises her role as 'Molly' alongside Kieran O'Brien in prequel/sequel 8 SONGS
- Penny Marshall signs Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett-Smith to the Robert Towne-scripted spinoff SISTERS GRIMM
- A live action Seth Green joins the voices of Bill Murray, Chris Tucker and Fifty Cent for Uwe Boll?s comic strip adaptation RON: THE MOVIE