AICN-DOWNUNDER: Enchanted, Control, Eastern Promises, Balibo Five, and We're Here To Help
Published at: Oct. 14, 2007, 9:03 p.m. CST by quint
You're a strange bird, Dieter. A man tries to kill you and you want his job.
Is AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH the first film to win an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize? The answer, surprisingly, is no: it didn't technically win the Nobel Peace Prize. But still, it should serve as a wake-up call to everyone, especially the Weinstein Brothers. Forget the Oscar campaign: I want to see you get Gwyneth Paltrow a Nobel Prize in Chemistry before 2009. Al Gore has raised the bar for everyone in the film industry, and if we want to see our world (of film) survive, we need to step up and change the way we market movies.
A few weeks ago, I ridiculed the idea that Russell Crowe was going to play the villain in the new STAR TREK film; not just because he'd almost certainly never sign on to something like that (he's busy doing big crime epics with Denzel and Ridley, don't you know), but because it's such obvious and yet still counter-intuitive casting. As if the producers would even offer it to him! Well, it seems like they probably did, because The Guy You Apparently Get When You Can't Get Rusty, Eric Bana, has actually signed on to play Nero, the Romulan villain. Nero? Really? The last time STAR TREK tried to play up the the Romulus/Rome parallel, we ended up with the Remans and STAR TREK: NEMESIS. Hopefully this time, they won't just be fiddling as the franchise burns... This piece of casting was mentioned in a lot of place, including AICN, but I really wanted to discuss it so I could use the title "Romulan, My Father", but, not surprisingly, 4. was beaten to it.
Robert Connolly, the Australian director/producer whose political leanings fueled the anger felt in films like THE BANK and THREE DOLLARS, has just signed on Anthony LaPaglia to BALIBO. The film focuses on the Balibo Five, the five Australian journalists killed by Indonesian forces in 1975. Fun fact: former Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso has announced he's running for president of Indonesia in 2009. Sutiyoso left Australia suddenly when he was to be called before a coronial inquest into the deaths of the Balibo Five. Who's interested in another inextricable quagmire of a war? I know I am!
There's a very interesting film coming out of New Zealand called WE'RE HERE TO HELP. It's based on the true story of Christchurch businessman Dave Henderson and his battle with the Inland Revenue Department. According to the film's synopsis, the film is "a saga of Kafkaesque and yet comedic proportions". I think it looks like it could be pretty damn good, so check out the trailer at the website www.heretohelp.co.nz.
Michael Lake, the former president of Warner Roadshow Studios, has just been hired as president of the World Wrestling Entertainment's WWE Films division. After taking the role, Lake stated that he would like to make more films in Australia. Tax breaks have reinvigorated foreign production in Australia, with WOLVERINE beginning to film in Melbourne in a few weeks. It's great news that our economy and film practitioners will be benefiting from more films made by the company that brought theatrical wrestling to the world, so long as we don't, y'know, have to actually watch them afterwards...
Seriously, there are enough people enticed by the tagling "Get ready for another rush!" that this shot to number one? If you keep encouraging them, they'll just keeping making more. Have some dignity, geez.
Leonardo DiCaprio kicks off his presidential bid, Jodie Foster shoots people to impress John Hinckley Jnr, Frank Oz directs the first film to be rated MA for high level English quirkiness, nothing beats a documentary with a delicious double meaning title, nothing sucks more than a comedy with a lame double meaning title, Peter Berg's look at the Middle East almost gets it right, Lars von Trier's Zentropa Films brings us the first film ever shot on CCTV, now they're in France! lolz!, and Mike White makes a dog (just kidding, it's not a bad film).
There's this thing that a lot of films do, and I tend to enjoy it. When a film decides to start off five steps ahead of you without slowing to catch up, you tend to watch the first ten minutes with a sort-of dumbfounded "This is gonna make sense soon, right?". I revel in the confusion, taking note of characters and moments of dialogue that are sure to make sense very soon.
Now imagine that feeling being stretched to an entire feature film. What happens? Do you get irritated? Do you spend the entire time hoping the end will pay off somehow? Do you lose interest?
I experienced all of these at varying points during the film, often experiencing them simultaneously. And you get to a point where you're thinking "It's been one hour fifty of this. If it hasn't made sense yet, it's not going to". And it's not that I don't understand the plot; I just can't get a handle on the vibe of the film. I don't know what story it thinks it's trying to tell. So yeah, it's safe to say I wasn't crazy about this film for the most part.
So what kept me glued to the screen (for I was, in face, glued... figuratively, obviously) ? Clooney. I'm sorry, I know it's not cool to be so enamoured by the big stars (we cool internet underground critics only have eyes for the Guzmans, Capmbells and Bynes of the world), but if they ever do get around to making PHONE BOOK: THE MOVIE, Clooney's my choice for narrator. I know I'm not the first to comment on Clooney's charisma (this just in: Peter Lorre is German), but it's important you take into account how big the Clooney Factor is with me, particularly as I'm going to finish this review with a positive recommendation.
See, the film ends with a payoff that's not as powerful as it thinks it is, because it's left us dwindling for most of the film. It's kept us at arm's length, and though that certainly plays into one important element of the eventual switcheroo, it does rob the film of the "wow!" factor I think it was going for.
So, why am I recommending this film to you? Because the above is my initial reaction to the film. And as much as instant reactions are important, they're nothing compared to the taste the film leaves after a week or two of contemplation. See, I wrote this review the day I saw the film. And I've gone back to rewrite the final paragraph because my feelings about MICHAEL CLAYTON have changed a lot since I saw it. Things have become clearer the more I've thought about them. The ending has become better. The whole point of the film has unraveled in my head, and I think I'm going to get a lot out of a second viewing. I'm not sure where the majority of people will end up standing on this film, but it's one I think you should definitely give a shot, because you're sure to get something out of it, be it curious frustration or surprising engagement.
THE BRAVE ONE
I find it very difficult to put Neil Jordan in a box. He's very spry, and the bell around my neck gives me away every time.
But even so, it's hard to pigeonhole his style of filmmaking. You expect a certain level of maturity from him, and for the most part, this film delivers it. But those moments are always tempered by the ones that stand out like sore thumbs (and therefore seem, at first glance, to overwhelm the film). Take for example the opening scenes, the ones that take place before something horrible happens. How do we know something horrible is about to happen? By the zippadeedoodah foreshadowing that always comes before a cinematic tragedy. And by "cinematic tragedy", I mean in the sense of "whatsisname gets shot", not GHOST RIDER.
Do you remember the start of FACE/OFF? When Nic Cage shoots John Travolta's son? You'd think that Travolta would have guessed something was up by the way he and his son were laughing so delightedly and having such a wonderful time! The only times you ever see people that happy is right before someone dies. And I'm counting real life in that, too.
Now, THE BRAVE ONE doesn't quite descend to that level of parody, but they do throw in a comment from one of the main character's friends ("You guys are so happy, I hate you!"). We all feel it, honey. Then when the violent act does occur, it's actually too violent. I was trying to figure out if I'd become too sensitive or if the violence was just gratuitous. Well, it's not really gratuitous, is it? The story doesn't work if we don't experience what Jodie Foster experienced, but it still feels like too much. (I decided to hold off writing this review for a few days so I could figure out whether I feel the problem's with me or with the film, and I still can't. So I'll move on.)
The script has an interesting premise, but it dips into cliche far too often. The wise old black woman? Really? There's nothing wrong with having a character that happens to be old, black and womanly, but when the character is a checklist of stereotypes as overtly as this one is, you wonder why such talented people as Foster and Jordan didn't pick up on this when they were shooting. This purports to be a Serious Film about a Serious Topic, and fails whenever it relies on these simple codes.
But there are some good points. Jodie Foster is very good, but if you've ever seen her in anything, you already know this. The surprise for me was Terence Howard, not 'cos I don't like him, but 'cos I've hardly seen him in anything. Can he be in everything, please? I know I'm late to the party, but damn he's good. He very quietly steals nearly ever scene he's in, which is good, because most of the time he's partnered with Nicky Katt (usually very good) playing one of those cliches I mentioned before. (Katt as a wisecracking cop who makes light of horrific situations? Maybe in NCIS or some crap, but not this.) Likewise, I found Stephen Rea's performance to be surprisingly... uh... wait, he's not in it. Weird. Hope everything's cool between him and Neil.
But my biggest problem with the film is the ending. When you raise a whole slew of questions about morality, you have to answer them. You can choose to answer them by not answering them; by leaving the question open-ended, by presenting the audience with different options that may make them question their own beliefs. With so many differing opinions, if you don't want to come out as preachy or divisive, you need to be morally ambiguous. The ending of THE BRAVE ONE is not morally ambiguous. It's morally corrupt by all but the most warped of standards. It's too mainstream to work as a challenging Peckinpah-esque mindfuck, and it's too finite to work as an open-ended query. I really found quite disturbing, but not in the way I suspect the filmmakers intended; I was more disturbed that this was considered an acceptable conclusion for what starts off as a fairly interesting posit.
Right, though I in the first fifteen minutes of EASTERN PROMISES, I know what the theme of this week's column is going to be: cliches and excessive violence. See, EASTERN PROMISES is rarely structured in terms of quality.
It's not rare for films like this to have the wheels come off the wagon in the last act. What's rare is for the wagon to start off on blocks before someone comes along about mid-way through act two to attach wheels and get the damned thing going.
It's fair to say I wasn't impressed with the opening of Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES. He's been on a bit of a high lately, having just come off what could end up as a career highlight in A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (the only element missing is that essential test of time). EASTERN PROMISES appears to be a story that focuses on Naomi Watts's maternity ward nurse, and that anything we see of the film's Russian mafia will be see through her eyes. Clearly, Cronenberg is more interested in Viggo Mortensen's tough-as-nails low-level driver, and -- possibly because of this -- so are we. Watts is always very good, but her storyline is the weak link of the film, which has the potential to be GODFATHER-like in its scope. Unfortunately, the need to see this world through the eyes of a more easily-relatable character grounds the film when it should be soaring.
The narrative amends this on the run, as the natural plotline shifts organically towards Mortensen and Vincent Cassell's powerfully-impotent heir apparent. These two have extraordinary chemistry, as does Armin Mueller-Stahl as Cassell's crime boss father.
Now, I've heard nothing about EASTERN PROMISES (I went in knowing zilch, to the extent that the opening scene made me think it was an actual Russian film before the moment of "Is that Naomi Watts?"), but I'd be amazed if this didn't lead to a bunch of nominations for Viggo Mortensen. Once again, awards and nominations are not the benchmark for quality, but invoking them when discussing the quality of work helps to illustrate certain points. And the main point is that this Mortensen has found his perfect director in Cronenberg. It's a match I never would have guessed, but the two of them seem to do their best work when they're together. It could be coincidence of material, but where's the fun in that? Mortensen gives not only the most engrossing performance in a year, but the bravest one as well. Calling a performance "brave" can sometimes come across as a backhanded compliment (thank you, Sir Humphrey), but there are very few actors at any level who would commit themselves as wholeheartedly to some of the stuff that Mortensen does here.
It doesn't start with any particular brilliance, but it sure as hell makes up for it by the end. One you really have to catch.
After seeing CONTROL at this year's MIFF, my friend Paul commented that he'd like Anton Corbijn to film his life. I find it hard to disagree. This is one of those films where any still could be blown up, placed in a frame and stuck on your wall. Everything is beautiful, and yet you really do feel the constant pain that Ian Curtis is in.
I'm not a die-hard Joy Division fan, but I've always really liked their stuff ("Love Will Tear Us Apart" in particular), and you'll want like their music if you're gonna see their film, 'cos there's a lot in there. More than most musical biopics, I'd wager. But I suspect that there's enough in there to appeal to even those who would not necessarily go out and fork out for their albums.
It's strange to refer to it as a musical biopic, because even though it pretty much ticks every box that RAY and WALK THE LINE ticked -- and I certainly gave a fair bit of grief to those films -- it manages to do so in a way that doesn't feel contrived or constructed. And it doesn't go the easy cinema verite route (handheld cameras in the wrong hands can be dangerous things), not with all that beautiful cinematography. No, it's kind-of hard to pinpoint what it is Corbijn does so well. If it was easy, I suppose even James Mangold would be doing it. But it does feel like a very genuine look at the life of Joy Division's dour singer, and the physical resemblance (crazy dance movements included) is excellent.
Sam Riley does an amazing job as Curtis, successfully playing his ups and downs without over-the-top antics or insincere posturing. Likewise, Samantha Morton yet again proves herself to be one of the world's most underrated actors, with one of the most convincing instances of character aging ever committed to film. And, admittedly, she only ages about five years, but it's a long way from nervous schoolgirl to beleaguered wife, and Morton makes the transition flawlessly.
It's a bit lengthy, but it's never less than beautiful, and it's easily one of the best musician biopics ever made.
If I was late to the Terence Howard party (this is either a reference to an awesome Latauro-in-Hollywood anecdote, or a reference to something from the BRAVE ONE review), I was really late to the Werner Herzog party. I knew the name well, and could even list many of his films despite not having seen them, but last year was my first encounter with Herzog. It was during the 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival, and I was averaging about three films a day for over two weeks, so if something's going to stand out, it needs to be special. THE WILD BLUE YONDER was unlike anything I'd ever seen. The concept was so audacious and the execution was so captivating, I was quite figuratively left speechless.
Now Herzog has gone from an esoteric science fiction mockumentary to a pretty straightforward Vietnam POW narrative. It's Christian Bale as Dieter Dengler, a real-life air force pilot who is shot down on his first flight and is almost immediately captured by the enemy. Herzog is far more interesting than your standard action director, and Bale is far more interesting than your standard action star, so you'd think it would be a perfect match. And you'd be right.
This is an utterly terrific film that never outstays its welcome, never feels like it's resorting to sensationalism, and never misses a beat. Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn are both very good, even though they seem like they're playing the same guy some of the time, and the supporting case of anonymous Vietnamese (especially Mr Kriangsak Ming-olo as Jumbo) are all brilliant.
It's such a straightforward story, I'm not sure what else there is to talk about. Other than to say that Bale should garner some recognition for his performance, if there's any justice in the awards community. And I think we all know there is.
This is a good film to take your Friday night wanna-see-an-action-film friends to. It'll keep them very happy, and you'll get to see a great piece of filmmaking at the same time.
I knew practically nothing about this film, other than its central conceit: a Disney movie suddenly becomes live action when a princess is thrown into the real world (or New York, if you prefer).
The film starts off very corny. Corny in such a way that there was some doubt in my mind as to whether the filmmakers knew they were being ironic or not. There was only a small amount of doubt, but there was some concern for the first few minutes of the film.
By the time we get to New York, there's no doubt what they're trying to do. Amy Adams mugs for the camera a lot (perhaps too much at first), playing the over-gesturing princess in the real world setting. This real world setting, mind you, is still a Disney film. It has to be. But there's still a part of you that wants to see her in a real real world setting. Muggings, extreme violence, etc. Wait, am I describing REAL WORLD?
Part of the fun of the film is -- if you don't know who's in the cast -- working out who the actors are from their caricatures. I picked Timothy Spall and Susan Sarandon, but missed out on Prince Edward, who turned out to be James Marsden (who looks like a Disney prince character in real life anyway). As good as the rest of the cast is, Marsden absolutely steals the show. This is probably the best showcase his comedic skills have had to date; if I gave stars in my reviews, his pitch-perfect delivery and impeccable timing would notch the film up at least an extra star (hey Apatow, where's Marsden's PINEAPPLE EXPRESS? Give him a lead role in something!).
The film's biggest problem is how it handles the real world stuff. It's hard to get the central cartoon-princess-in-our-world concept if the world doesn't resemble our world at all. It's SNOW WHITE finding herself in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET... and not even the original; I'm talking about the remake with Dylan McDermott. Characters' arcs are laid out in their first lines ("I'm uptight, don't believe in true love, and like pragmatism!"). Surely we can give kids a bit more credit than that? The nine-year-old and twelve-year-old I took to the film don't have particularly sophisticated taste in films, but both felt the whole thing was a bit predictable (unprompted, too). I was sort-of yearning for the version of this film made by Pixar or some auteur with a strong sense of how to contrast the two worlds with a bit more panache. Still, if you go in expecting a Disney movie, you probably won't be disappointed.
The way they spoof the music of Disney films is particularly clever, managing to make fun of the Disney standards whilst still creating some songs and dance sequences that are really quite good. Also -- before I forget -- the old hag from SNOW WHITE who gives Snow White the apple, gets a real world representation here, and full credit to the makeup artist who did it. It's truly astonishing work, and if you see ENCHANTED nominated for Best Makeup in a few months, I can pretty much pinpoint the exact shot they got the nomination for.
The ending is a bit naff (they throw money into a big special effects extravaganza in service of the B plot, rather than come up with a sequence that's more central to the film's A plot), but it's an oddly satisfying film that I really wasn't expecting to like as much as I did. Like STARDUST a few weeks ago, it won't go down in history as a PRINCESS BRIDE-level classic of sharp satire, but it's got enough laughs to justify a viewing or two.
- Castle Rock announces that MICHAEL CLAYTON will, for its DVD release, be renamed CLAYTON: TO HELL AND BACK
- Gus Van Sant to direct a film about a long phone call between a marijuana dealer (Michael Pitt) and a Special K addict (Casey Affleck) in THE POTHEAD CALLING THE KETAMINE
- Ryan Phillippe signs on to ANTITRUST sequel ANTIGONE, with producer David Nicksay hoping he can get original writer Sophocles to do a rewrite ahead of next year's strike