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AICN-Downunder: HARRY POTTER 6, BALIBO, DRAG ME TO HELL And The New Jim Jarmusch!

The best films are like dreams you're never really sure you had.


Today's column is light on news, but heavy on reviews -- and you can trust me on that, because it rhymes. Although I'm usually fine with people skimming over the reviews, i'd suggest you take a look this week. Below is a review of what I suspect will turn out to be the best film of 2009. Unless, of course, something even more incredible comes along, which, of course, I hope it does.

But, to repeat a sentiment, if you've paid to see all the big budget stuff and feel like TRANSFORMERS 2, TERMINATOR 4, and all the other dross that's elbowing for screen space, then you're missing one of the best years of cinema ever. I've always felt that big-budget epics and low-budget indie fare are on equal footing when it comes to quality (my top ten each year is usually an even mix of both), but in 2009, I'd say that 90% of the best stuff has been playing in arthouses. I don't know why that is, it's just how the trend is swinging this year. So stop forking out for films you know will suck, and go see something great! It's more fun than complaining about the Hollywood sausage machine, I promise you.

NEWS has reported that the re-building of Hobbiton has begun in full! Apparently the hedgerows and fruit trees have been planted, and the Bag End path has been marked out. Given I'm a total LORD OF THE RINGS tragic whose childhood ambition was to be a Hobbit, expect a lot of these minor updates in future columns.

Cate Blanchett, who continues to be one of the most interesting an consistent actresses working today, will star in INDIAN SUMMER, based on a book about the last days of British colonial rule of India in 1947. Blanchett will likely be joined by Hugh Grant, who actually gives off a big "British Colonial" vibe, in my opinion. (Seriously, I'm a fan.)

As a huge fan of BLACK SHEEP (the New Zealand horror comedy, not the Farley film), I've been eagerly awaiting Jonathan King's UNDER THE MOUNTAIN. The film is based on a kid's novel that's huge in New Zealand, but never made it here to Australia. Or, if it did, I never heard of it. Which, now I think about it, is far more likely. Either way, the film stars Sam Neill, aka the sure-fire way to ensure I'll buy a ticket. Click here to check out the trailer! (Thanks to JForce)

David Blumenthal is an Australian animator currently working on an adult 'toon series called "The Precinct". He's put together an online survey "which asks questions about how people watch TV nowadays, how they like cop action, who would win in a fight between Jonathan Banks and Brian Dennehy, that kind of thing". All of this info is key to the development of the series, so go to and do some out-filling.


58th Melbourne International Film Festival Part 1: I Guess Ken Loach Really Hates Israel

I was going to avoid reporting on MIFF until my coverage of the festival begins next week (hooray for the annual clogging of AICN's home page -- good luck finding any actual news, suckas), but two pieces of news must be mentioned. The first is that Ken Loach has withdrawn his film LOOKING FOR ERIC in protest of MIFF being partly funded by the Israeli government. Look, I understand wanting to protest a perceived injustice (in this case, Israel's treatment of Palestine), but Ken, bubi, you gotta pick your battles. MIFF is an independent arts festival that doesn't take sides in political disputes, and has played -- and this year, is playing -- films that focus on the Palestinian experience. In this case, according to The Age's interview with festival director Richard Moore, the money from Israel amounted to an airfare for Tatia Rosenthal, who directed the Australian-Israeli co-production $9.99. I'm pretty sure that a festival which promotes films about both Israelis and Palestinians, and screens them based on quality of material instead of the country of origin is the exact type of world you and I, Ken, can agree we're striving towards.

58th Melbourne International Film Festival Part 2: Uighurs With Attitude

Sometimes China forgets that its control of the media doesn't extend beyond its borders. Consequently, Richard Moore received a phone call from the Chinese consulate insisting that the film 10 CONDITIONS OF LOVE be removed from the lineup. The film -- a documentary about Uighur businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer's fight for the rights of China's oppressed Uighur population -- was directed by Melbourne filmmaker Jeff Daniels, and will be introduced by both he and Ms Kadeer. The argument from China was that "Rebiya Kadeers is a criminal" and that Moore had to justify the film's inclusion in the lineup. Speaking to the ABC, Richard Moore explained his response: "I said 'Well, I'm very sorry but I didn't have any reason to justify the inclusion of the film in the festival.' So she then proceeded to ... list Rebiya Kadeer's crimes. I have to say to you after about five minutes I blanked out." Once the consular official began repeating Kadeer's alleged crimes, Moore hung up on them. MIFF owes China a thank you -- both session of 10 CONDITIONS are now guaranteed to sell out, thanks to the brilliant publicity boost the Chinese government has given it. I'm just glad I got my ticket well in advance of this story breaking!

(UPDATE: In the week since I wrote this column and unsuccessfully submitted it to the AICN Overlords, there's been some developments. Two Chinese directors have withdrawn their films based on 10 CONDITIONS being shown. The films are CRY ME A RIVER, a short directed by Jia Zhangke, and PERFECT LIFE, directed by Emily Tang. Tang was to be a guest of the festival, but has decided at the last minute not to attend... which is a natural extension of her removing her film from MIFF, but doesn't make her look any less foolish. Surprisingly, a third Chinese director, Zhao Liang, asked that his documentary PETITION also be removed. Given PETITION is about the injustices of the Chinese court system, I wouldn't have expected Liang to be the sort of director who would bow to political pressure, but there you have it. Maybe his documentary has a Chinese government official swooping in at the last minute to doll out peace and justice to all the people. I don't know. I haven't seen it, and now clearly I won't. Congratulations to all the above directors who have made themselves look like idiots in the name of totalitarianism.)

Australian Film Institute Awards 2009

The nominations for Best Documentary have been announced alongside Best Short Animated Film and Best Short Fiction Film. The list includes BASTARDY, THE CHOIR, GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS, and LIONEL. To my shame, I've only seen GLASS so far (but hope to catch up on the other by the end of the year), but I must ask: where is LOVE THE BEAST? It's made more money at the box office than any Australian documentary in history, and though I am, of course, not putting that forward as an argument for its inclusion, it was an entertaining and well-constructed doco that was a highlight of 2009, for me at any rate. Is its lack of inclusion because the subject matter deals with cars, or because Eric Bana made it? Is it not considered "worthy" because of that? Or were the other docos just plain better? Though I really enjoyed GLASS, I would rate LOVE THE BEAST higher. Either way, that's my rant over, for this paragraph at least. The feature film nominations will be announced this October.

Russian Resurrection Film Festival 2009

I really should see more Russian cinema -- I'm always pleasantly surprised by their films, yet I know so little about their industry. This year's Russian Resurrection Film Festival might be a good chance to catch up. The festival will premiere Nikolai Lebedev's SOUNDTRACK OF PASSION (which hasn't even been released in Russia yet!) and Karen Shakhnazarov's WARD NO. 6, based on a Chekhov story (sold!). There's a bunch of other interesting-looking stuff, and the festival will be traveling to pretty much every major Australian hub, so go to for details.

Quentin Tarantino presents DARK AGE

Tarantino is out for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS at MIFF (I got my ticket! Pretty happy, given they sold out within one single minute of going on sale), and is taking advantage of his trip to Melbourne by presenting his own personal 35mm print of the 1987 classic DARK AGE. The film stars John Jarratt, David Gulpilil, and a massive crocodile. QT will introduce the screening and will host a post-film Q&A With stars John Jarratt and Nikki Coghill. Popcorn Taxi hosts the event at the Hayden Orpheum Picture Palace in New South Wales, on Tuesday August 4.


A few months ago I mentioned DAMNED BY DAWN, a supernatural Australian film that looks like it could be something pretty awesome. They released a promising trailer earlier this year, and will now have its world premiere screening on Wednesday August 12 at Melbourne's ACMI cinemas in Federation Square. The film starts at 7:30pm, and entry is free, so Melburnianites have little reason not to attend. Looking forward to it.


So here's what happened: I submitted this column last Saturday, but I'm guessing it got lost under the thousands of daily emails that fill the AICN mailboxes. So instead of just re-sending it, I thought I should probably wait until Wednesday night so I could include the DRAG ME TO HELL review and update the Box Office section. Interesting fact: in updating, I noticed that the films are exactly the same as last week, only in a slightly different order! What? Oh, that's not an interesting fact? I humbly withdraw the anecdote.



Sacha Baron Cohen gives people an excuse to feign offence, Cathy Henkel makes a documentary scarier than any horror film released this year, I have no idea what this film is about, actor Rupert Friend has the most presumptuous surname since 1930s stage actor Charles Lendmesomemoney, horror fans scream "HOORAIMI!", Damien Lewis loves Cox, a young girl forms a beautiful friendship with an ultra-conservative news network, Jim Jarmusch makes a film that's completely (see below), Kriv Stenders makes a film with far more scope than Curtis Hanson's LUCKY YOU, Warner Bros is given all of our money, it's all "Mes! Mes! Mes!" with the French, Nia Vardalos edges ever closer to that team-up with Nick Giannopoulos, Clifford the Big Red Dog gets an unfaithful screen adaptation, and could they have made less noise about the new Rowan Woods film? Jesus.




Australian release: August 13

New Zealand release: yet to be announced

I know I've done this schtick before, but here it is again anyway: Earlier this year, I said that if there's an Australian film in 2009 better than SAMSON AND DELILAH, then this is an extraordinary year for Australian cinema.

This is an extraordinary year for Australian cinema.

Rob Connolly is an interesting guy. Last year, he published a white paper that outlined in very clear terms what was wrong with Australian films, and what needed to be done to fix it. When I read it, I thought two things: (a) it was brilliant, and (b) it would be ignored. The status quo was working to well for the people in charge of it, and little, I thought, would be done to shake it up. Was I right in my assumption? I honestly can't tell. The spate of brilliant Aussie films this year could easily be the result of the established system, or it could be a sign that significant change has come. It may be a few years before we find out, but I digress. I mention the white paper, because it instantly set the bar even higher for Connolly's next film. Whatever he put out had better be damned good, and it had better live up to the standards he'd just set for everyone else.

Even without those extra expectations, BALIBO had an awful lot to live up. It's a true story, based on events in 1975, and the simple decision of whose eyes to tell the story through was tricky in itself. Fitting, then, that the film should employ a brilliant trick to please everyone. The film is largely about the five Australian journalists who went missing in East Timor at the time of the 1975 Indonesian invasion. So through whose eyes is this story told? The Balibo Five? Australian journalist Roger East who went with then-26-year-old José Ramos-Horta to investigate what happened to the Five? How about from the point of view of an actual East Timorese, given this is their story that we're telling?

Cunningly, the film is told through all of their eyes, and manages to do so in a completely organic, natural manner. Even the issue of the Timorese story being told via Australians is addressed, in one of the film's best moments. There isn't a single angle that's been ignored, and few parties come out of this narrative morally unscathed.

Key to the film's success is its casting. There's not a performance in the entire film that isn't completely spot-on, particularly in the portrayal of the Balibo Five themselves. Damon Gameau, Gynton Grantley, Nathan Phillips, Thomas Wright and Mark Winter all resist the temptation to oversentimentalise the journalists. They're played as real as possible, with their quest to get to the heart of the story as much about a grab for ratings as it is a quest for truth. There's more -- much more -- I could write about them, but to do so would ruin scenes that should be seen fresh.

Anthony LaPaglia gives what must undoubtedly be the performance of his lifetime as Roger East, the man who goes in search of the journalists when no one else was bothering. I've always liked LaPaglia, but I never knew he was this good. The show, however, is completely stolen by Oscar Isaac as Ramos-Horta, who completely owns every moment he's on screen. I am shocked to discover from the press kit that Isaac is American -- I was honestly convinced he was from East Timor. Does the AFI give out awards for casting? Maybe they should start. BALIBO would sweep.

As for Robert Connolly, this is a massive turning point for him. He's long been one of the more interesting people in the Australian film industry, whether he's writing and directing films such as THE BANK and THREE DOLLARS, or producing films like THE BOYS and ROMULUS, MY FATHER. BALIBO, however, firmly establishes him as a world-class filmmaker. It's the foolish financier that, post-BALIBO, doesn't hand him a blank cheque.

If I sound enthusiastic, you should know I've actually edited most of the hyperbole out of this review. Informally, I'd say this is the film of the year (keeping in mind we're at the halfway mark). Although the film's importance to cinema is a significant one, its importance as a document of record is more significant. It brings to light a period of Australasian history that has been largely swept under the carpet, and the film is somehow objective and justifiably angry all at once.

BALIBO is completely and unquestionably the unmissable film of the year.


Australian release: July 23

New Zealand release: August 27

There's something to be said for dismantling the hype machine, unplugging the internet, and going to live in a cabin in the woods... that happens to be next to a cinema multiplex. See, I'm a huge Jim Jarmusch fan, but I had no idea he had a film coming out until I got the media invite. It was a lovely surprise. Even though I know he's still alive and making movies, I always think of Jarmusch as a bygone filmmaker, simply because his sensibilities are so gloriously and uniquely left-field, I can't believe that he's walking around on the same Earth as the rest of us.

LIMITS OF CONTROL feels like a throwback to STRANGER THAN PARADISE or GHOST DOG in the way he finds his story. Jarmusch has this wonderful quality as a filmmaker that makes it look as if he's been wandering around with a film crew until he found someone who looks interesting, then filmed their life until something happens. When Jarmusch finds Lone Man (Isaach De Bankolé), he simply points the camera at him and waits. I had no problem with his, as De Bankolé has one of the most captivatingly stoic faces I've ever seen on film. It's a face constructed purely for a Jarmusch film.

This film will definitely frustrate some people. It's slow -- very slow -- and doesn't really seem to have any driving narrative, even when things are clearly happening on screen. On its surface, it appears to be incredibly simple; one man performing some unspecified job that requires him to go from person to person collecting instructions. This simplicity belies the sheer complexity of the film's themes, which seem to orbit the concept of idealists in a cynical world. It sounds naff, but thankfully Jarmusch doesn't outline his intentions as bluntly or artlessly as I just did. (Assuming, of course, that I've interpreted them correctly.)

Through characters such as Tilda Swinton's Blonde, Jarmusch explores who he is; through Youki Kudoh, he ponders his place in the world; through John Hurt, he questions his own pretentiousness; through Bill Murray, he berates his own inability to fit into the real world; through Isaach De Bankolé, he impassively observes, collects the evidence, then makes his final inevitable judgment.

Dialogue in the film places an unambiguous emphasis on the import of dreams and art and reflected images over the uninspiring realness of the real world, and Jarmusch constructs his film accordingly. The shot composition and soundscape are as potent as anything he's made beforehand, and at times rival anything in DEAD MAN, his 1995 masterpiece.

As I said, it won't be for everyone. My companion at the film was reasonably well-versed in Jarmusch and is no slouch in the arthouse cinema area, and felt the film simply didn't work. I can see what he means; even an esoteric film must have care and attention given to structure, and even I'll admit that the ponderous pace does begin to wear slightly in the final act of the film (no matter how abstract you attempt to be, it's always possible to divide any two hour film into a traditional three act structure). But that minor complaint aside, my reaction was the opposite. THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is a truly important progression in the filmography of one of the world's most interesting filmmakers, and possibly the most intensely personal work he's ever made.


Australian/NZ release: July 15

Is this the most redundant review ever? The film's already been released, has been reviewed everywhere already (including by all the bigwigs on this site), and you already knew if you were going to see it or not when they were in production on film three. Nevertheless...

I've debated with people the merits of the HARRY POTTER film series. The argument against the films usually hinges on why they cut this particular bit of the book, to which I'd explain that if all the bits were left in, the film would be seventeen hours long. My own idea was that they should have made a TV series out of it -- seven seasons is a good run for a popular show, and the episodic nature of the books, as well as the fact that they take place over a year, would mean that not an iota would be lost, and more could be added. Of course, television is still seen as the poorer cousin of film, and a franchise this big demands a feature film franchise. Also, the sixth film has just come out, and arguing against the series as a whole brings new meaning to the word "moot".

But what advantages are had by a cinematic interpretation? It's a question that, oddly, hasn't come up much in the whole Movie Meritoriousness debate, and yet it's such an obvious one to ask. So here, in numerical order (either ascending or descending in order of greatness or not greatness, it's entirely up to you) are the three key advantages to the cinematic adaptations of the "Harry Potter" book series:

1) The Scope

This is an easy argument to make in light of the sixth film, given it's the most beautiful of the lot. Look at how much care is taken in setting up the mood of Hogwarts and its surrounds. Each film manages to bring something new to the countryside without it looking like it's in a completely different place. The latest "angles" are the best so far, with mist-covered mountains, clear rivers, and enough lingering shots for us to absorb it all. Years ago when Harry reviewed FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, he talked about a young girl pointing out Rivendell to her father and saying that she wanted to live there. That anecdote (which I've been unable to rediscover after a morning of Googling) stuck with me, because that wish-fulfillment is the most obvious thing that should be brought out in fantasy films, and so few actually achieve it. Yes, I want to live in Rivendell, but thanks to the scope of the film, I'd really like to go to Hogwarts. (Side note: I'm now a convert. See it in Imax 3D if you get a chance. It's figuratively mind-blowing!)

2) The Directors

Say what you like about Christopher Columbus, but he didn't combine the first two books into a single film, he didn't make the whole thing a CGI animation fest, and he didn't set the damn thing in California (as unconfirmed rumours suggested some directors wanted planning). He kept everybody British, and helped set up a brilliantly-realised world that Alfonso Cuauron, Mike Newell and David Yates have all inhabited to, in my opinion, unbroken success. I'm not surprised that David Yates is the guy they're running with for the final stretch... or, now I think about it, what will eventually be 50% of the franchise. He's made some brilliant stuff (again, I insist you check out the original BBC "State of Play"), and his work on POTTER has been exemplary. That doesn't mean everything in film six is perfect. There are some oddly underwhelming choices made that seem to lessen the impact of what should be huge moments, but the consistency of quality helps me overlook these. Directors this good wouldn't come along if this were being made on television. (Or would they? Actually, had they started making my hypothetical "Potter" TV series in 2001 when they began the movies, they'd have certainly hired Yates amongst others... so this point only half works.)

3) The Cast

When the inevitable eight-film box set comes out, I hope they reserve a spot on the back for the cast list, just to show off exactly how many incredible actors they crammed into this thing. The fact that these are massive films means they retain people like Robbie Coltrane, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman and Michael Gambon year after year, even when their parts are diminished. David Thewlis turned up for one solitary scene in the fifth film, and The Great Timothy Spall appears for no more than ten second in the sixth! That attention to detail in creating, but also maintaining, this world is a huge part of the films' success. But this paragraph is also an excuse for me to talk about Jim Broadbent, who reminds us why he's so damn brilliant. Broadbent could have easily coasted through this role. He could have read each line in his wonderful manner, but still essentially play himself, and we'd still be applauding his screen presence and perfect casting. Broadbent is, of course, so much better than that, and constructs an entirely real, completely believable Professor Slughorn from the script up. It's weird to write "completely believable" when you're talking about a wizard who starts off as a an armchair in his first scene, but Broadbent inhabits this socially-awkward, starfucking character so wonderfully, a kid's film about wizards turns into something you simply cannot dismiss. Anybody who regards these films as hype or an advanced form of merchandising should watch Broadbent in this before they speak.

Look, you've either read the books or you haven't. You either like the films or you don't. You're either going to see this or you're not. Your mind was probably made up long ago. But if there's still an objective part of you that could be swayed, allow me to help: eight years ago I picked up the first book to see what all the hype was about, expecting that I'd dismiss it outright. Upon reading the first, I realised that JK Rowling had been raised on all the brilliant English authors that I had (Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Hugh Lofting, AA Milne, etc), and that these books were continuing and expanding the tradition. I was cynical, but ultimately won over. Start with the books, then check out the movies. It's better late than never.


Australian/NZ release: July 23

"Sam Raimi is back." Oh, how phrases like this tempt lazy reviewers like myself. It's past midnight, I have an early morning, and I'm so tempted to resort to the oh-so-simple narrative of Former Horror Director Returns To Horror Roots After Stint In Big Budget Hollywoodland. However, to accept the idea that Raimi is back, you'd first have to inform us where he'd gone in the first place. Had he gone to the place of selling out and churning out low quality films? Well, no. Forgetting SPIDER-MAN 3 (oh, that I could...), there's an unmistakable scent of "passion project" around even the most bizarre career choices of the 1990s. So no selling out there. What about that dip in quality? Well, SPIDER-MAN 2 is about as perfect a superhero movie as I've seen, and so 3 is but a blip.

Oh, so it's a return to his horror roots, then? Well, sort-of. The same sensibilities that inform his horrors are also present in everything from the SPIDER-MAN films to A SIMPLE PLAN.

So what phrase can I use if I want to churn out a quick review? I need my clichés, people! How about: "Sam Raimi's still got it."

That one I can live with. DRAG ME TO HELL is, to put it mildly, fucking scary. It's as if Raimi heard our cries for help and came to remind us that horror films can actually be good. As if to underscore the quality of HELL, the film was preceded by a trailer for ORPHAN, which is either the worst horror trailer I've ever seen, or the most brilliantly subtle spoof ever made.

I wouldn't describe myself as a horror fan. I love THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE SHINING, but everybody loves those. But as a non-horror buff, I find that I'm perhaps harder to win over to the genre. That's why DRAG ME TO HELL is so damned impressive. Jaded we may be, but I could not keep still in my seat for more than two minutes at a time.

There are a few odd choices. It's weird seeing product placement in what feels like an old school horror flick. Particularly if that product placement is technology, with the constant shots of Apple products (desktops, laptops, iPhones, Justin Long, etc). Justin Long, incidentally, is brilliant, as is Alison Lohmann. Sorry, did you want me to go into the plot? No, can't be bothered. Either you've heard it a dozen times by now, or you don't know a thing about it, but either way you don't need me repeating it here.

I'll simply say that nobody, but nobody, can combine horror and comedy the way Raimi does. I've never laughed louder whilst being thoroughly disgusted as much as I did during this film's running time. I started out this review talking about tired old phrases, which is unintentionally fitting, given that, thanks to DRAG ME TO HELL, the sentence "They don't make 'em like they used to" can now be officially retired in relation to horror.



The film: French dramas have done practically nothing for me the past few years. I won't pretend I've seen anything approaching all of them, but the ones I have caught (such as François Ozon's 5x2 or Joachim Lafosse's PRIVATE LESSONS) have left me bored, angry, or -- more often -- both. Philippe Claudel's I'VE LOVED YOU SO LONG is a nice reminder that French drama can be brilliant. Claudel avoids all possible clichés: people being horrible to one another for no reason, conflict arising from contrived situations rather than character, using the words "character piece" as an excuse to make your film not be about anything, and wall-to-wall melodrama (there's one moment at the end, but it's entirely earned). Kristin Scott Thomas gives one of the most astonishing, restrained performances ever as Juliette, a woman recently out of prison. She's supported by a superb cast and an intelligent script. When the ending arrived, I realised how often pure dramas go the extreme ironic tragedy route for an easy out; I'VE LOVED YOU subverted those expectations completely, delivering a beautiful and intensely satisfying ending that actually had me eager for an immediate second viewing.

The extras: Just a trailer, and it appeared to be out of sync. An English language commentary from Scott Thomas would have been interesting. Oh, and those who like to turn off English subtitles might want to avoid the region four edition of the film; the subtitles are burned into the image. No way to turn them off!

Should you buy it: Absolutely. And I wouldn't say that if its repeat value wasn't high. It can also be used as a seduction tool for that arty chick at your school, or as a cruelly ironic Mother's Day gift (you'll understand when you see it). Or, even better, as one of the better dramas in your DVD collection.


- Neil Gaiman and Henry Selick to spin-off into stop-motion sitcoms with "Coraline In The City"

- The words "Inglorious Bastards" become the most accurately-spelled phrase on the internet, thanks to illiterate talkbackers and bloggers inadvertently misspelling Tarantino's film correctly

- Hugo Weaving stretches himself even further, playing the founder of Scientology as if he were a Middle Earthian elf, in ELROND HUBBARD

Peace out,


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