Published at: March 16, 2009, 9:15 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
I never considered the working class anything other than something to get out of.
Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy biiiirrr-- wait a second. First of all, I should clarify that it's not my actual birthday, but rather six years since I started writing the AICN-Downunder column. Second of all, I know how much the copyright to "Happy Birthday" costs, so I want to stress I was not singing to that tune. It was another tune entirely. "Hey Jude", I believe. Phew. Close one.
Semi-regular scooper Perth Patty just sent through something overheard during a Triple M radio interview with Russell Brand. Apparently, he and Jonah Hill will be doing a FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL spinoff. The surprising news? He claims that Eric Bana will be in the movie. This is a bit of a shock, but then so was Bana as the STAR TREK villain. And he's just appeared in Apatow's FUNNY PEOPLE, so there is a connection there. Could be wild, Brand-fuelled rumour mongering, but I suspect we'll get confirmation on this very soon.
I once served Damian Walshe-Howling a drink during my exceptionally brief stint as a bartender. True story. He then smashed the bottle over my head and set fire to the place. False story. Anyway, the former "Blue Heelers" actor has landed the role of the villain in LIVE FREE OR POINT BREAK, the should-be-adopted name of the upcoming surfing crime sequel. Jan de Bont is lensing, which is my least favourite way of saying he's directing, and Moviehole suggests that the crims will this time be wearing masks of George W Bush, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney et al.
THREE BLIND MICE is the acclaimed directorial debut of actor Matthew Newton, but it's been confined to the festival circuit as it was long without a distributor. Now, according to Inside Film, Titan View has picked up distribution rights for Australia and New Zealand. It's played well at the Melbourne International Film Festival, the Sydney Film Festival, the London Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival.
Tony Ayres is the producer of FRANKENSTEIN, a contemporary take on the classic Mary Shelley tale. Normally, this news would accompany a massive yawn given the number of adaptations we've already had, but I'm fascinated. We don't do a lot of genre work in Australia, at least not at this level (ie: a funded level), so I'm curious to see how it goes. The film is adapted and directed by Peter Carstairs, writer/director of the 2007 film SEPTEMBER.
DeadlyPorpoise has written in to tell us that Ngila Dickson will be providing costumes for the new GREEN LANTERN movie. Best know for her incomparable work on LORD OF THE RINGS, Dickson is a good choice for the film, should this rumour pan out. And even if it shouldn't pan out, she'd still be a good choice. GL begins pre-production in Sydney next month.
Superheroes. Mad scientists. Ninjas. Not the usual fare for Australian cinema, but then that's always been one of the problems, hasn't it? STREET ANGEL is an adaptation of a comic book by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, an action comedy that's been turned into a film by some Sydney-based filmmakers. It looks like it has a lot of potential awesomeness. Check out the trailer for yourselves at: http://www.streetangelshortfilm.com
AWARDS, FESTIVALS AND SCREENINGS
Film Critics Circle Association of Australia
NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD has, quite rightly, won the FCCA award for Best Documentary, proving that film critics do actually have good taste and worth. For London readers, NQH opens this weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and will be released on DVD there on March 30. Though it's essential owning, it must be first viewed on a big screen with an audience, so don't miss it out.
15th London Australian Film Festival
Speaking of Australian films playing in London, the excellent THE HORSEMAN will accompany LONG WEEKEND, LAKE MUNGO, DYING BREED, NEWCASTLE, THE BLACK BALLOON and TEN EMPTY at the London-based festival. HORSEMAN director Steven Kastrissios won't be at the screening as, according to Inside Film, he will be premiering the film at the SXSW in the US the following day. If you're in a position to see this film, see it. Brilliant Aussie revenge film.
I liked GRAN TORINO a lot, but I can't understand how the hell it's still in the top five after all these months. Bit of a sleeper, even with Clint's name. WATCHMEN was the predictable winner, with AU$3.5 million, a decent opening week (given our population). Despite all the Australian films, none of them cracked the top ten. THE COMBINATION, by David Field, is doing well given the number of screens it opened on, but Kojo's BEAUTIFUL has done quite poorly. Eric Bana's LOVE THE BEAST has scored low, but the film will open wide next week, so we'll see how that figure changes.
2. HE'S JUST NOT THAN INTO YOU
3. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE
4. GRAN TORINO
5. NEW IN TOWN
RELEASED THIS WEEK
Ed Harris turns a new fruit juice produce into a Western, a new Australian film was actually such a disaster I couldn't bring myself to review it (seriously), Jerry Bruckheimer produces another testosterone-fuelled action flick, the year's most understated and beautiful film is so good I won't even make a joke about it here, Stephan Elliott nails Noel Coward (in a creative, not sexual, way), yawwwwwwwwwwn, TWILIGHT is schooled on how to do young vampire stories and still be original, Eric Bana somehow makes a documentary about his car incredibly interesting, Mark Monroe somehow makes a documentary about a boat incredibly not-yet-seen by me, Renee Zellweger is digitally inserted into SWEET HOME ALABAMA, a film about the Notorious B.I.G. is shot with prior knowledge from prominent West Coast film executives, Terence Davies is gloriously condescending in this terrific autobiographical doco about Liverpool, a drama about racism and family still provides a more compelling explanation of bees than THE HAPPENING, and "I watch the Watchmen" instantly becomes the most overused phrase of 2009.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret about Australian film critics. You know how almost every one of us has chided the public for not wanting to see Australian films? Even if such a blog or editorial or parenthetical comment has given equal blame to the films themselves, we've all pointed a crooked finger at the audience for its instant allergic reaction. The truth is that critics actually feel the same way. Listening to how some of us were dreading the experience, even before the film had started, was a fairly enlightening experience. Even I wasn't looking forward to it, and for no other reason that it was an Australian film. It's so utterly depressing that we have this reaction, that it's been thoroughly earned thanks to an endless stream of federally-funded nonsense, and that it's going to be a long time before the stigma is removed. If it's removed at all. No, when critics chastise you for having an adverse reaction to Australian films, it's only ever because a specific film that we loved has done poorly at the box office, even though we went to great lengths to tell you tremendous it was.
So ends the overly-long introduction to my review for 2 FISTS 1 HEART, a Perth-set film about boxing. If, at this stage of the review, you would prefer to go back and read my WATCHMEN critique again, here is the link. If, however, you're more open to-- oh, look, I'm doing it again. Chastising you because I assume you're not interested in this film. Honestly, I went into the cinema knowing nothing about it. Had I known it was a film about boxing, I'd have probably found some excuse to stay home and work on something else. I admit it. It's not just subject matter snobbiness; it sounds like FFC-approved festival-baiting crap.
It's not. It's actually very good.
This tale of an immigrant's son pushed by his father into boxing might not break much ground, but it takes a tired concept and breathes new life into it. Seriously. This film does not feel like a rehash of every other similarly-themed film that's come before it, and given how far behind the starting line it was beginning, this is no mean feat.
It does suffer slightly from taking two steps forward, one step backwards; for every two cliches it successfully and gracefully avoids, it will plunge headfirst into the third with the elegance of an ice-skating cow. The script is by Rai Fazio, who is himself a Sicillian Perth-based ex-boxer, and even appears in the film. Fazio is clearly drawing on a lot of life experience, although that experience does seem to be filtered through the standard movie structure.
Lead actor Daniel Amalm -- apparently from local soapie "Home and Away" -- is astonishingly natural as the lead character, sailing over moments that could have so easily been mishandled. Likewise, his father Joe, played by Ennio Fantastichini, manages to get across huge amounts in small, private moments. It's the sort of subtlety we're just not used to in local films, and despite his loud, brash character, it's the moments in-between that set him apart. I know, that sounds like a PR quote, but he's so good, he inspires PR-liked behaviour.
Jessica Marais does well with a role that works as often as it doesn't. The tale of lovers from opposite sides of the track is handled well for the most part, though it's a big stretch of the imagination to suggest that these two characters are meant for one another, something the film seems to be pushing. The fact that they seem more at ease during their argument scenes than their love scenes speaks a lot about what this film should have done with them. Paul Pantano doesn't have a lot to do as the Best Friend, but somehow ends up as one of the film's most likable characters. And believe it or not, comedian Tim Minchin turns up for a few scenes as the brother of Kate (the love interest). He's terrific, and the writing of his character is one of the key moments where cliche is avoided. Screenwriter Fazio plays the key boxing rival, and does so almost without fault. There is some amazing and unexpectedly impressive acting in this film.
The film's approach to different cultures is also quite unexpected. The worst scene is the brief glimpse at Kate's university life, in which her lecturer talks like a Footlights send-up of a flamboyant Oscar Wilde play. It's such a leap from the scenes of lower class life or immigrant houses or boxing clubs, where the lifestyles are simultaneously indicted and praised, but shown in an honest, realistic light.
A lot of that has to do with the work of director Shawn Seet, who displays a phenomenal amount of promise with this debut. Seet is clearly adept with actors and knows how to show a world; it's ugly when you're supposed to like it, and appealing when it shouldn't be. It's a tremendous skill, and I'm certainly keen to see where else he goes.
Along with cinematographer Hugh Miller, Seet creates a visual style that is at once sleek and erratic. It certainly heightens the feel of realism that the film is going for, even if the occasional lapses into typically-awkward Australian movie dialogue do bring us out of that.
Hey, look, I did it again! Look, the film is quite good. I don't for a second expect anyone to see it. I could rave on and on about how great it is, and it would still be a film about boxing in Perth. Let's be honest about it. You're going to see WATCHMEN for a third time before you see this film. And hell, if I saw this poster and tagline, I'd probably do the same.
It's a shame, 'cos you're going to miss out on what will undoubtedly be one of the best Australian films of the year. Not flawless -- absolutely not flawless -- but tremendously engaging, and so good it overcomes those flaws and then some. Go against your gut feeling and give it shot.
SAMSON AND DELILAH
Australian release: April 30
There is an intense sense of relief that comes with the opening shot of this film; the assurance that you're in the hands of a filmmaker who knows exactly what they're doing. Although every film comes with a certain degree of trepidation until The Moment that assuages your fears, it's more heightened with an Australian film. In particular, an Australian film that, based on its poster and logline, looks like an attempt to win over festivals and funding bodies by creating a meritless, shallow film that has only the vaguest appearance of import or relevance.
Boy, is that ever not the case. This isn't some cynical attempt to win over critics and the Politically Correct crowd by inserting Aboriginal actors into a fairly simple A-to-B story. This film is steeped in a sense that what you're seeing is true, that it's based on real experience. And not in a way whereby a scene that doesn't work at all is given a free pass because It Actually Happened, but in the way where you feel like you're watching something that is actually happening in front of you.
The film is set in central Australia, in an incredibly small Aboriginal community, isolated from the world save for one dirt road. Delilah is a sixteen year old girl taking care of her grandmother, and Samson is a fifteen year old boy with absolutely nothing to do from day to day. And that's it. That's the setup. It could so easily be crammed with stupid jokes to win over audiences, or it could have gone for total brutality to win over critics. It does neither. In fact, it seems like nothing actually happens in the first half hour, and yet it's captivating. The character work and filmmaking skills are so potent, I'd have been happy if the entire film had continued that way.
It's a hell of a feature debut for writer/director Warwick Thornton, who has been best known for his short films NANA, GREEN BUSH, MIMI and PAYBACK. He's clearly honed his craft well, and has a powerful understanding of when to use certain techniques and when not to. It's an easy trap for directors to fall into, using flashy techniques to impress crowds with their skill, yet it's a trap that Thornton avoids. Every device is used only when it's in service of the story, and he never puts a foot wrong.
Special mention needs to be made of the cast, all nonprofessional actors. Rowan McNamara is Samson, Marissa Gibson is Delilah, and Mitjili Gibson (Marissa's actual step-grandmother) is Delilah's grandmother. The performances of these three truly make the film, and I'm a bit astonished that the two kids have never done any acting before. There's not a moment of artifice in there, and I think part of that has to do with the lack of dialogue. If you condensed all the dialogue in the movie, you'd probably end up with one or two pages, no more. The majority of the film is done either through body language, looks, or with the occasional third character chiming in. Mitjilli Gibson probably has the majority of dialogue, which is good, given what an audience favourite she is. But I think that reducing the dialogue to a bare minimum is one of the keys to making the film work.
This isn't a tedious Film With a Message; it's a film about two kids. Thornton does have some very powerful things to say, but they're said in the background, woven into the narrative. Petrol sniffing, the theft of Aboriginal artwork, the role of the Christian church in the outback... with deft subtlety, these issues are presented in a matter-of-fact manner, rather than as preachy issues with a Right and Wrong.
Like Ivan Sen's massively underrated 2002 film BENEATH CLOUDS, this is a film that deserves to find its audience. Of course, as the poster left me with the worst kind of cynical suspicions, I'm not sure what it will do for the general public. I can certainly see it playing well internationally (though, I'll confess, largely at festivals), and as somebody who is far-too-frequently embarrassed by some of the films we send overseas, I'd be proud to see this travel the world. It's certainly a damned sight better than AUSTRALIA, and though that's hardly high praise, I challenge anybody who bought a ticket to AUSTRALIA to buy one for SAMSON AND DELILAH. You will not be disappointed.
Australian release: March 26
New Zealand release: May 21
Keeping with the theme of Australian movies, we now have a film directed by an Australia, shot by an Australia, starring Australians, and made in Australia. Except, of course, that it's a Nic Cage action thriller that has absolutely nothing to with Australia.
KNOWING is a big, silly film that will likely please and annoy audiences. And I'm not talking about a division where half the people enjoy it and half dislike it, I mean that each individual audience member will, most likely, find it very enjoyable and very annoying in equal measure.
Nic Cage is a science-knower whose son comes across a fifty year old letter left in a time capsule, a letter that apparently signals major catastrophes. The twist? There are three catastrophes left on the page, and Nic must use his Science to put a stop to them! Or, if not that, run around a lot as they inevitably play out!
It's a neat premise, which is the sort of thing you say about a film when the setup is mildly interesting but the payoff isn't. Don't get me wrong, though, there are some terrific moments in this. Alex Proyas is clearly a student of Kubrick and Hitchcock, and the most effective scenes are the ones that highlight his not-insignificant skills.
The least effective scenes, however, involve silly dialogue, contrived situations, unbelievable motivations, and... well, the usual motions. There are some terrific This Is How Hollywood Assume Scientists Must Talk moments between Cage and Ben Mendleson, but it's hard to not enjoy any scene with Ben Mendleson, so these also get a pass.
I really want to write a more in-depth review, but all I keep coming back to is the fact that it's not as bad as THE HAPPENING. Seriously. It's a similar-ish premise, and it's really hard to avoid the comparisons, particularly if you're a lazy film reviewer with the attention span of a cat just walked past my window.
I've still got a lot of affection for both THE CROW and DARK CITY, and so I always have the time of day for Proyas. He is, however, beholden to the quality of his scripts, and so even if this is silly rubbish, it's very well-directed silly rubbish.
Ladies and germs, I'd like to introduce to new a new part of the column, which I'm going to pretend is somehow tied to that sixth anniversary thing I mentioned in the editorial. In an attempt to hack my way through the pile (actually, now two piles) of review DVDs that are piling up on my desk, I'm starting this section as a way to push myself into reviewing them. Watching them is the easy part -- in fact, I can tell you now that the majority of the reviews will be positive. I'm not going to waste my time on unworthy fare (though we'll see how long I keep to this), so the following mini-reviews should serve as recommendations. For the first time ever, I'll be using an easily-referenced review scale, similar to thumbs and stars and percentages, but less linear. Hope you like it.
TRUMBO (Region 4, Madman Entertainment)
The film: This will be my third review of this film. I reviewed it when it played at the Melbourne International Film Festival, and again in my Best Of 2008 list. It's not hard to find new things to say about it. It's one of the most irritably perfect movies; irritating in that few films are this good, and irritating in that it's only 96 minutes. If you've not yet heard of the film, it's a documentary about Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, of JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN and SPARTACUS, and how he was blacklisted along with the other members of the Hollywood Ten. And yet it's so much more than that. Actors like Michael Douglas, David Strathairn and Paul Giamatti read out various plays, letters, scraps of writing that Trumbo penned over his lifetime, and these are inserted into the documentary as breakers between the story of Trumbo's life. It was one of the three best films of 2008, and in any other year, would have been a shoo-in for the number one spot.
The extras: Sadly, only a trailer. I would have loved more footage of Trumbo, more exploration of his life, more monologues, but to be honest, I just want another, identical film. It's probably best that the Leave Them Wanting More edict is followed, as everything that needs to be said is contained in the film. And anyway, the trailer is really good.
Should you buy it: I don't know why you're even still reading. Run, now. Buy two copies. Buy three. It's that good.
- Following outback drama SAMSON AND DELILAH and Australian bikie film THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO, producers announce that the upcoming CROCODILE DUNDEE sequel will be titled DIE ENTFUHRUN AUS DEM SERAIL
- Fox confirm the upcoming Joel Silver sex tape leaked to the internet will, indeed, be called RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, but will likely not hold any canonicity with the Marvel slate
- Bow Wow and Jonathan Lipnicki sign on to Aaron Sorkin's Obama-influenced basketball/federal politics sequel LIKE IKE