AICN-DOWNUNDER: The Tale of Despereaux, Bustin' Down the Door, You Better Watch Out!!
Published at: Jan. 13, 2009, 11:42 a.m. CST by merrick
I could say they lived happily ever after, but what's the fun in that?
One of my favourite phrases is this: "If you want something done, give it to a busy person." (As told to me, the phrase actually ends with "busy man", but I know AICN is a very PC website. Right? Right?) There are, as always, exceptions that prove this rule, as the months-long absence of AICN-Downunder has proven.
Nevertheless, the damn thing is back, and I'll try my best to cram this column full of fibre so as to ensure greater regularity.
A few years ago, I read a screenplay called LAND OF SUNSHINE. I can't actually remember anything about the script other than the fact that I liked it a lot. Though the film never got off the ground, its writer, Scott Murdan, has just made a feature called THE DINNER PARTY. Apparently, the film was initially greenlighted by the AFC, but then deemed to be too controversial, and so the funding was pulled. If the AFC pulling out isn't a recommendation, I don't know what it is. The film was eventually funded without government assistance, and was completed in late 2008. The plot setup has a distinctly Palahniuk vibe to it, which has me intrigued. From the site: "What would you do if you found yourself at a dinner party where people were planning on killing themselves afterwards?" Check it out at www.thedinnerparty.com.au.
Last year's indie GATES OF HELL proved that we can do genre as well as anybody, and I've got hopes for SLEEPER, an independent film out of Brisbane. It looks gloriously schlocky, and stars Scott "Raven" Levy from the world of wrestling (so I'm told), and Bruce Hopkins (Gamling from LORD OF THE RINGS). There's a dangerous killer loose, some detectives on his trail, and the word "carnage" in the synopsis. I, for one, am looking forward to it. Take a look at www.sleeper-movie.com.
Unless I've made a huge error (not for the first time) and confused names, then actor David Field has just made his directorial debut with THE COMBINATION. Field has appeared in an awful lot, but most notably (for my money, at least) appeared in the two superb elliptical prison dramas GHOSTS... OF THE CIVIL DEAD and EVERYNIGHT... EVERYNIGHT. His new film, THE COMBINATION, is about a Lebanese family in urban Australia. As always, we won't know if it's brilliant or terrible until we see it, but if nothing else, the trailer displays some superb production values. Because today seems to be the day for me to pimp websites, go watch it at www.thecombination.com.au.
Not technically a film story, but I thought I should point you towards a website I've been enjoying. The Plot Device is a site out of Brisbane that reviews movies, but, more uniquely, precedes the review with a comic strip lampooning the film in question. It's very easy to wile away the hours on, so be very careful, but check it out regardless at www.theplotdevice.com.
AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS
2009 BIGPOND ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL
My love of Australian cities is a bit inverted. I don't tend to get anything out of trips to Sydney, Brisbane or the Gold Coast, however, I always love going to Hobart, Canberra and Adelaide, three oft-mocked cities. That's a roundabout way of saying that I'd really like to go to the Adelaide Film Festival, not just because I like Adelaide, but because of the festival's brilliant Investment Fund programme. The festival invests a large sum of money in a film, with the key condition being that the film is premiered at AFF. At the top of my interest-pique is MY YEAR WITHOUT SEX, Sarah Watt's follow-up to her terrific LOOK BOTH WAYS. Other titles include MY TEHRAN FOR SALE, HOME, LAST RIDE and the intriguing SAMSON AND DELILAH. In addition to that, their retrospective programme includes THE APARTMENT, MANHATTAN, MIDNIGHT and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. The festival starts on February 19, and I'm seriously considering a road trip. Who's with me?
It's a bit late to review it now, but of the below list, I've only seen BOLT, and it's quite good. Certainly a damn sight better than most of Disney's non-Pixar films from the last few years. Definitely worth a look-see.
1. YES MAN
2. SEVEN POUNDS
4. MARLEY AND ME
5. BEDTIME STORIES
RELEASING THIS WEEK
The target audience for this film I am not, this documentary reviewed below, cultures clash as Bollywood meets people-who-watch-Bollywood-films, the B is silent, my nightmare film scenario comes to life, Paul Rudd stretches his good will, and one of the best films of 2008 gets a 2009 release in Australia and New Zealand.
BUSTIN' DOWN THE DOOR
CHANDI CHOWK TO CHINA
HOTEL FOR DOGS
ROLE MODELS THE WRESTLER
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
If I ever add another category to my end-of-year AICN-D wrap-up, it would probably be Best/Worst Films of the Year. I mean that as a singular category; you'd have Best Films, Worst Films, and then Best/Worst Films. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and SOUTHLAND TALES would instantly qualify, films that aimed high and did what nobody else had done, then crashed spectacularly into a pile of utter goo. I have more respect for films that aim for the stars and fail, than I do for films that aim for "good" and achieve it.
I'll tell you what I love about THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX: it's not filled with pop culture references, or characters automatically talking as if they live in modern day New York, or lame sight gags. Nor is it trying to copy the Pixar format. DESPEREAUX is doing its own thing, something new and interesting that somehow recalls a style of animated filmmaking from long ago. It's utterly glorious to look at, miles ahead of most other CGI fare, and great care has been taken in the construction of its worlds.
Now, I'll tell you why it's a bit of a shambles. For starters, Sigourney Weaver gives just about the laziest narration I've ever heard. Yes, she's miscast, but she also seems to be putting zero effort in to what she's doing; perhaps this was some sort of postmodern irony in putting an unanimated narrator over an animated film? Either way, it drags the film down, and her delivery makes the writing sound patronising and condescending. Perhaps it would have sounded like that anyway, but the flat delivery doesn't help.
Nor does the narrative structure, such as it is. I'm at loathe to vilify it too much, because it does try something new, something we don't see much of these days. The only problem is that it doesn't work. It's about a dozen different stories at once. We meet a slew of characters before we meet the titular mouse, and it's never quite clear where the story is going. We follow a rat, then a princess, then a handmaiden to the princess, then the mouse himself, then... well, it goes on a bit like that. The problem with these intertwining stories is that it's never really made clear what story we're watching. The muddled and ever-changing motives of the main characters don't help much either, and what could have been an interesting, I don't know, Altmanesque multi-protagonist tale ends up as a tangled ball of twine that never quite makes any sort of narrative sense.
I sort-of want to recommend it, even though I don't think it works at all. Despite its many overwhelming flaws, it avoids the mind-numbing cliches that so many other films sit in so happily. I may not like it, but I do respect it.
BUSTIN' DOWN THE DOOR
Even if you're not interested in a particular form of art or sport or human achievement, you should be able to appreciate anything when it's done well. For instance, I had zero interest in the culture or history of breakdancing, but could always appreciate it when I saw the masters of the art in action. Then I saw 2008's brilliant documentary PLANET B-BOY, which gave me an interest and admiration for the history and culture of the dance that I never thought I'd have.
The same can be applied to the subject of surfing. I always admire it when it's done well, but until I saw the upcoming documentary BUSTIN' DOWN THE DOOR, I didn't realise how interesting the story behind it was.
The film, of course, doesn't cover the whole history of surfing, as I'm sure there are many other stories about the origin of surfing that make up its overall narrative. BUSTIN' focuses on when surfing went from being a casual hobby to an actual professional sport. The story of the transition is surprisingly interesting, and the filmmakers focus on the handful of surfers (largely from Australia and South Africa) who went to Hawaii and, for better or worse, profoundly affected surfing.
The film doesn't have a particularly strong narrative, though there is a classic rise-falls-rise story there. And the lack of a strong narrative isn't a criticism, it actually fits with the surfer vibe of the movie. The narration by Edward Norton is a bit disconcerting at the beginning -- the unavoidable shadow of FIGHT CLUB -- but he's used to good, minimal effect.
This is a film that should almost be played in a double with DOGTOWN AND Z-BOYS, with BUSTIN' played first. It's a terrific doco that will appeal to surfers, and, more importantly, people who have no interest in the subject.
YOU BETTER WATCH OUT
I'm probably a bit unfair on the short film form, but there was a period of a few years where every short I was presented with was a one note joke; setup and punchline. That can work at times, but it seemed like that was all that was on offer. Few shorts bothered to really be about anything.
There are, not surprisingly, countless exceptions to this, and so I've eased up a bit on the anti-shorts rhetoric. A lot of that has to do with films such as YOU BETTER WATCH OUT, an Australian short with a terrific central premise: two dim, grown-up brothers kidnap a department store Santa, assuming him to be the real thing, and torture him for not giving them what they wanted when they were children.
It stars Chris Haywood (SHINE, BREAKER MORANT), Stephen Curry (THE CASTLE, ROGUE) and Dan Wyllie (CHOPPER, "Underbelly"), and contains more plot twists than most Australian features of the past couple of years. Though the film could probably lose about three or four minutes from its twenty minute running time, it's still relatively taut given the ground it covers, and the witty dialogue moves it along well. All three lead actors are superb, and the production values (cinematography, production design and music) are all top notch. It's the debut of writer/director Steve Callen, who will no doubt move on to bigger and better things, so remember the name.
It's already played at countless festivals (including Austin's most recent Fantastic Fest), but keep an eye out for it, 'cos it's definitely worth a look.
- Disney continues its line of direct-to-DVD sequels, with the adventures of a big-eared circus elephant who is forced to testify before the House of Un-American Activities in TRUMBO
- George Lucas attempts to bring some grit back to the STAR WARS Universe, with Gungan prisoner abuse tale NABOO GHRAIB
- A legendary Australian actor becomes the mascot for a young boy's basketball team in AIR BUD TINGWELL