AICN-DOWNUNDER: The Independent, Beowulf, American Gangster and Gabriel!
Published at: Dec. 1, 2007, 5:39 p.m. CST by quint
The time of heroes is dead: the christ god has killed it, leaving nothing but weeping martyrs and fear and shame.
It's getting to that time where I need to start compiling my best of 2007 list. I enjoy it way more than I should... see, I don't usually enjoy rating films, holding them up against each other directly, giving them a numerical value. It's one of the reason that -- much to my friends' annoyance -- I haven't got into Flixster, and one of the reasons I've never compiled a best ever films list, even though I can, when pressed, reel off a handful that would make the top tier.
So why do I enjoy ranking the films of each year? It's hard to tell. Perhaps because the list is smaller than, say, an all-time list, and it's therefore less daunting. You don't have to adjust social values and filmmaking skills for inflation, so the playing field is more even. Also, I still don't feel compelled to do the numerical value thing, so I don't have that to worry about.
So, when I look over the list of films that have come out, I realise I've got about a fifty per cent strike rate. It's pretty good. Given this was perhaps the busiest year of my life ever, actually getting to films was quite a feat. There are many I'm frustrated to have missed, and many I've missed on purpose (who would have thought I'd have a dentist appointment during every press screening of THE GAME PLAN?).
The strike rate is the same for Australian films. I've missed quite a few, but I've caught many that I was afraid I might have missed. I'm going to go into more detail about how Australia fared this year in December's 2007 AICN-DOWNUNDER ANNUAL, but until then I'm going to have to do some nepotistic pimping.
THE INDEPENDENT is a film about a store manager who decides to run as an independent candidate in Richmond. It's directed by Andrew O'Keefe (no, not the game show host) and stars Lee Mason. I haven't seen the film yet, but everything I've seen about it makes it look like a film I'd see even if I didn't know the people involved (disclosure: I've worked with both O'Keefe and Mason before on a few caffeine-fuelled film shoots). I did quietly seek out word on the film from trustworthy non-partisan sources, who have had nothing but positive things to say about it.
The film's being rolled out to various cinemas across the country, so do some listing searches and seek it out.
If anyone missed it, we totally had a federal election the other day. After eleven and change years of the centre-right Coalition of Liberal and Nationals being in power, the country tipped the other way and installed the centre-left Labor Party. Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has appointed Peter Garrett as Minister for the Arts, so he'll be in charge of national film policy. You'll remember Garrett as the bald, limb-flailing lead singer of Midnight Oil, whose politically-charged anti-establishment lyrics have given comedians sooo much fodder over the campaign, and will surely give even more fodder over the the next three year term. How will this appointment affect the Australian film industry? It probably won't, but we'll see how it pans out.
The Australian Writers Guild joined in on an International Day of Solidarity on November 28, rallying in support of the Writers Guild of America. I know, it's hard to imagine a whole lot of Australian screenwriters spending a whole day without employment, but that should not take away from the unity displayed by scribes across the thing. Hopefully we'll get a resolution to this dispute soon. I'm not sure how many reality shows and -- don't pretend it's not coming -- reality movies we can take.
Where the hell did this come from? Currently in production is a low-budget, independently-funded feature film, THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. Is it simply using the title of Mozart's opera, or is it an adaptation? It's described as a comedy and stars a beardy biker in the lead, and is written an directed by Chris Moon, who my rudimentary research skills suggest is a cinematographer. As an opera fan (seriously), I'm going to keep as close an eye as I can on this one.
When I interviewed Everett De Roche earlier this year, he mentioned a remake of his 1978 thriller LONG WEEKEND was in the works. Well, the remake -- due for release next year on the original's thirtieth anniversary -- is currently in production. Jamie Blanks, who recently directed De Roche's STORM WARNING, is helming the flick, which is again written by De Roche. The film stars Jim Caviezel and should-be-in-more-films Claudia Karvan.
The sheer number of YouTube links sent to AICN is a bit overwhelming, and I'm certain I get fewer than the uber-editors of the site. Practicality prevents me from clicking on all of them, but I had to take a look at TinyTown, a series aptly described by director Chris Corbett as LA CONFIDENTIAL meets BUGSY MALONE. And you know what? It's brilliant. The twelve year old kids had me believing they were hard-boiled detectives within about ten seconds, and the whole exercise is handled with more deftness than a YouTube series would suggest. Click here to watch episode one, and thank me later.
AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS
Americanians will soon get to see the Richard Roxbrough-directed, Eric Bana-starring ROMULUS, MY FATHER, now that Magnolia Pictures has picked up the US distribution rights to the film. No word yet on an exact release date. In a few days, however, the AFI Awards are announced, and ROMULUS is the most nominated film in AFI history, managing to pick up a nomination in every category, except for Best Use of Bill Hunter or Jack Thompson. December 6 is the date of the awards. Will you be watching? I know I might.
AUSTRALIAN CINEMATOGRAPHERS SOCIETY AWARDS
Don't hate on Kane Christopher, despite the fact that he's twenty years old and seems to spend most of his time winning awards. His film USELESS took out Best Comedy at the New York International Film Festival, and now he's won an award for Best Music Video at the Australian Cinematographers Society. Remember the name; I suspect we'll be talking about him a lot in the future...
Don't worry, Oscar season is just around the corner.
Hordes of people try to suck fluid out of Josh Hartnett, Christopher Walken gives more fodder to critics, Zemeckis gets his mojo back, Cuba Gooding Jnr makes a solid case for why people should return Oscars, Cate ticks the sequel and biopic box at once, Vince Vaughn is in a film, Disney makes a solid case for why entire companies should return Oscars, Rob Zombie continually fails to justify his existence, Ben Stiller plays Charles Grodin (not Alex Dimitriades), Emile Hirsch goes bush, actors thesp, Greg McClean does for crocodiles what BABE did for the pork industry, lots of kids see SAW, and an Australian film misses its proposed release date by two months.
When I start tagging my own reviews on a review-by-review basis, that can only mean there must be one below that wasn't written by me. GABRIEL -- which continues this column's theme of independent Australian films I really need to see -- is a big special effects-laden high concept film. I've heard mixed things about it, but the reviewer below seems to really dig it. And hey, someone's made a film that tries to do something with genre, so that alone is worth the support.
INTO THE WILD
Reviewed by Latauro
I was one of those people so taken with Kerouac's "On the Road", that I was very close to throwing off the shackles of my whatever, throwing a bag on my back, and taking to the road. Then I discovered everyone since 1957 had read the book and felt the same impulse, so out of embarrassment I hid my foolish ambitions and told them to no one.
INTO THE WILD has almost the exact same effect. All the romance associated with living your life on the road is poured shamelessly into the film by Sean Penn, who is no doubt taking Kerouac as his inspiration. Given the fact that the film is a true story, and (SPOILER ALERT) ends on a fairly tragic note, part of me does question the motives of making the film so romantic... but that part of me is soon quietened, given Penn has made an utterly superb film.
Emile Hirsch makes a good Christopher McCandless (I say, not having ever heard of him before I saw the film), the college kid who gives all of his money to Oxfam and goes on a journey across America without telling his family where he is. The only bits where he seems a little disingenuous is when he's reciting the works of famous authors and using them to make arguments. I don't want to stereotype anyone, but he's just too pretty. You don't really believe someone who looks like that would have these works at his fingertips. I know it's a mass generalisation, but I can apply this theorum to everyone I've ever met in my life and still get an error margin of zero. Nonetheless, the rest of his performance is impressive, and he shows some incredible depth before the film is out.
It's a rare true story that feels like a true story. The characters, interactions, motives and behaviours all seem quite real, with the exception of his relationship with Kirsten Stewart's character, which I strongly suspected at the time had been overemphasised (I read up on it; it has). Those scenes, like a few others, feel like movie scenes, written for a film with a fictitious narrative. A good film, but a made-up one.
Now, here's the bit I've been debating to mention or not; I did well up at more than one moment, and almost cried like a little girl during some of the scenes at the end. The reason I'm not sure whether to mention it or not is that I'm fairly sure it had more to do with the incredibly stressful morning I'd been having. That said, I can't be 100% sure either way (it would be easier to tell if I'd started weeping during THE GAME PLAN or BEE MOVIE), so I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt to Sean Penn.
Well worth seeing on the big screen, and certain to send many a young person (who completely missed the point of the ending) off into the wilderness.
Reviewed by Latauro
It has all the hallmarks of a great film. A legendary director in the form of Ridley Scott. Two powerhouse actors going head-to-head in a battle we haven't witnessed since... er... VIRTUOSITY. And a real life story about a cop and a crim told in parallel to one another. It really should be a terrific film, so why is it only pretty good?
I suspect it's because the story they're telling either isn't that compelling, or they didn't put their backs into telling it in a compelling manner. See -- and I'm going to be coming back to this qualifier a lot, so get used to it -- it's a good film, but there's nothing at any point that elevates it to anything great.
All the elements are workmanlike. Crowe wants to be a lawyer, so in order to show what an underdog he is, we get to see him fumbling with his briefcase as his classmates roll their eyes. It's a shorthand that I think is unworthy of Ridley Scott; the sort of thing you'd expect to see in the film of a lesser director. These are the sorts of basic storytelling techniques we're given in the hopes that it will lend some complexity to our leads.
Crowe's character is a cop... who is flawed! Denzel's character is a criminal... who does good!
That's about as much as we're given. Every twenty minutes or so, Crowe's Good Cop Doing will be countered when we see him being a mediocre father, or being in bed with a lady! Though the story itself is fairly interesting, and the script isn't particularly bad, you get the impression that a group of really talented people came together and brought their B+ game.
I think one of my problems is that neither Denzel Washington nor Russell Crowe do it for me. I've been trying to convince myself that I love their work for years, but with odd exception, I don't. I know Denzel's very good, but he basically plays the same character in every film. I know I'm committing movie blasphemy here, but I feel it's time I admitted my feelings on the matter. He may be very good at his craft, but he just doesn't get me excited about the film.
Crowe is another actor I want to love. Part of that is national pride, and part of it is listening to very smart people whose opinions I respect talk about how brilliant they think he is... but I just don't see it. We all love a good actor/director team-up, but the Ridley/Russell partnership is quite uninspired. Ridley directed Rusty to what I maintain is the worst performance I've ever see by an A-list actor , and their continued partnership does not seem to bring out the best in either one.
Again, AMERICAN GANGSTER is a good film. But that's the problem. I almost screamed at the screen when the final cards came up informing us of what became of these characters. I couldn't believe it... tell THAT story! Don't leave the most interesting part of the film to a few sentences that the audience has to READ after the film is over! It was frustrating, and just underscored what I'd been feeling the past two hours: AMERICAN GANGSTER wants to be a work of greatness, and ends up as pretty good.
Reviewed by Latauro
BEOWULF is the oldest story ever told, in which... oh, you don't care. You want to hear about the 3D and whether the FX are any good and so on. Well, far me it from me to deny you what you want.
I think 3D is here to stay. I think it's a long way off, but there's no denying that seeing a film like this in 3D on an Imax screen is a supremely enhanced experience. You want your senses assaulted in a good way? Then this is most definitely the future.
It's not going to be an all-encompassing thing, mind you. At some point when the revolution plateaus out, I suspect about a quarter of cinemas will be fitted with this 3D technology. After all, are audiences and theatre owners really going to feel that FAILURE TO LAUNCH 2 needs to be seen in three dimensions? I think two is probably pushing it.
Either way, BEOWULF will surely be considered a big leap forward, and it's mostly because Zemeckis really knows how to use the technology.
A lot of the character still look too plastic, and there's a veneer of rigidity about them that will only drop away with time and more movies... but that said, there are many moments where you do actually forget you're not watching people. Or rather, that you're watching not people. There's some amazing character work in the faces and the movement, which is a double-edged sword, in that it only underscores the moments in which the faces just don't move.
Grendel is a feat. Grendel is genuinely, genuinely scary, particularly in 3D. He's an amazing creation, and probably worth the price of admission alone.
Wait, CGI Angelina naked. That's worth the price of admission alone.
The work of Ray Winstone in this film is what really sets it apart. The fact that you can cast someone like Winstone to play a character who looks nothing like he how he actually looks gives the character an unexpected depth. Winstone's compelling in a way that... I don't know, whoever would end up playing this character if it were filmed, is not.
It's a film that doesn't work on some levels, and works really well on many others. Though I had problems with it, it became clear to me as I walked out of the cinema that I'd be recommending this film to people. Despite its flaws, the film presents us with something we honestly haven't seen anywhere else. It's bringing -- and I can't believe I'm actually about to type this -- a certain amount of magic back to the cinema, and with a jaded audience of plasma owners and high definition DVD buyers, it's come at the perfect time.
See it, but see it at Imax 3D.
Reviewed by Jaquen H'Ghar
Last night in Sydney I saw the gothic-action flick Gabriel at a screening with a Q&A organised beforehand with the key creative talent, including the director, screenwriter, cinematographer, composer and lead actor. Executive summary: it KICKED ARSE. Definitely the best Gothic action flick I've seen since the Crow films.
Before I get to the details, I should say a lil' bit about the Q&A organised beforehand with the key creative talent, including the director, screenwriter, cinematographer, composer and lead actor. They came across as really cool and down-to-earth. Almost all of them are Australians.
The director, Shane Abbess, impressed with his stories about how the whole thing gestated over 3 years. He wouldn't confess the budget, because he doesn't want it prejudged with lowered expectations, but I think the smell of an oily rag would sum it up - cash loaned by friends and family, until Sony got onboard and gave them cash for post-production. I asked Shane about how they did the fights (I love fight scenes) and he said they had the choreographer from the later Starwars films on board. But lets hit the nitty-gritty....
Premise: Heaven and Hell are fighting over the souls in purgatory - which to you and me looks like a grungy north American city (no Aussie accents - strictly "Atlantic" as Abbess said). Gabriel is the last of 7 archangels sent down (in a very Terminator 2 kind of way) to battle an equal number of "Fallen" who have killed or driven the earlier Archs into hiding. So the Fallen are now kingpin's overseeing a modern Sodom full of junkies and hookers who are destined for hell .... unless Gabriel can bring back the Light.
Ideas: there were a few interesting ideas that worked really well. One is that the angels (arch or fallen) can sense each other's super-spirituality, unless they "mask" it. We can tell when this is happening because when they're unmasked the Archs have brilliant blue eyes while the Fallen have Red-Yellow eyes. Unfortunately whenever they do anything out of the ordinary, like heal grievous wounds, they have to unmask, becoming a "beacon" to the other side. This was pretty cool, and established powerfully in a terrific early scene. When unmasked they can tap the "Source" to kick-arse. This reminded me of the Force and the magic in the Wheel of Time novels. But it works so great. Another cool idea was that Heaven and Hell don't know what's going on in Purgatory: who's doing what to whom, whose winning and whose losing. This is relevant because the longer the angels spend in purgatory, the more they are exposed to the corrupting influence of human emotions and the champions of the other side.
Look and feel: Very much The Crow. There have been more recent flicks in the Gothic-supernatural genre like Underworld, but Gabriel differs because its mostly pre (or post?) CGI filmaking. Sure there's a little bid of bullet-time, and Gabriel's "descent" into purgatory is all CG, but everything else is flesh and blood. I mentioned the Atlantic accents before and this gives it a manga-ish feel, too.
Structure: loan hero sets out to take down a group of bad guys one-by-one, until the final confrontation with the boss. Very reminiscent of The Ninja Scroll (for manga fans). So there's a clear goal established very early, giving the story a strong spine so can you strap yourself in and wait for the carnage (and be surprised by the twists). This is unlike a lot of Aussie flicks which try to be "post-narrative" and "intellectual" but just bore audiences to tears (yes Japanese Story, I'm looking at you...)
Characters: heroes and villains are terrific. Not too many films do both right, but this one does. Of course not all of them can be fully-fleshed, but they're as well-drawn as their screen-time justifies. The hero is played by Andy Whitfield, a Welsh actor who looks kick-arse and has acting chops as well. But I think my favourite was Sammael, the head bad-guy played by Dwaine Stevenson. Dwaine's an Aussie, ex army fitness instructor and has a ridiculously chiselled face. He reminded me of Viggo Mortenson but probably looks even better. He was sporting contacts: all white except for the pupils. This gave him a Manga-villain vibe - and so did his slow, controlled north-American accent (I'm thinking Agent Smith, and most manga bad guys). It worked. As for the rest of the bad-guys, they're varied and
scary. There's a rape scene with a couple of them and a female ex-Arch angel Uriel who had her wings taken by Sammael so she's no longer in touch with the Source. Sammael "enjoyed" her for a while before forcing her into prostitution (yep, a real piece of work) and these Fallen want a bit of a violent sex action too. The scene opens slowly and the tension builds with some great dialogue which is surprisingly non-cheesy for a genre film. Then Gabriel interrupts and opens a can of whoop-arse....
Score: there's a fair bit of choral work. The composer told how he couldn't afford to have the choir record everything beforehand so just had them run through the the main theme and do musical scales which he sampled and then used to generate new material with a keyboard. There's also some stuff reminiscent of NIN and some ambient stuff that sounded like early Moby.
I have only two quibbles: one of the fight scenes didn't work for me (I think the Bourne films have spoilt me), and the camera quality showed here and there with digital artefacts on mate backgrounds. But as far as the core filmaking: screenplay, direction, acting - they were A-grade. The film is in release in Australia now, and apparently Asia are really into it too, but a North American release is pending on good audience release down here. If you get the chance, see it.
- Producers of a new biopic about British comedian Tony Hancock angrily change the name of their film to TONIGHT HE COMES
- Christian Bale to record a cover of Scatman John's "Scatman" (with obvious lyrical changes) to run over the credits of THE DARK KNIGHT
- Rachel Weisz to appear in a documentary about herself quitting acting and battling Cuban drug runners in MIAMI WEISZ