AICN-Downunder: THE INFORMANT!, COLD SOULS, TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN pics, and potential HOBBIT casting news!!
Published at: Nov. 13, 2009, 11:33 a.m. CST by merrick
Polar bears cover their noses before they pounce on a seal. How do polar bears know their noses are black? Did they look in the water one day, see their reflection and say, "Man, I'd be invisible if it wasn't for that thing."
The other day, someone asked me if I'd seen John August's THE NINES. "Do you mean the animated one with the stitch puppets, or the Fellini remake?" asked I. Turned out it was neither. So now we have the delightful confusion of whether we mean 9, NINE or THE NINES when referring to any one of them. Hardly the end of the world, but it does make you wonder what's so compelling about that number that, in the space of two years, we need three major films to rely on it for their titles. (Not including the two shorts called NINE that, according to IMDb, were made in 2008, nor the 2006 TV series "The Nine" with Scott Wolf and Tim Daly.)
It's not an isolated incident. Not half an hour ago, I was discussing Jane Campion what Jane Campion's last film before BRIGHT STAR was, and I mentioned IN THE LOOP. Obviously, I meant IN THE CUT, although that answer turned out to be wrong as well. IN THE LOOP and IN THE CUT are hardly interchangable, but it does suggest that the problem might be with me, not the titles.
Further proof that the fault lies with me was in the last AICN-Downunde. I mentioned that the Coen Bros' A SERIOUS MAN wasn't coming out until February of 2010, when, in fact, it's coming out later this month. Too late, I figured out that I'd misread a press release about A SINGLE MAN. Then I checked to see when the Michael Douglas-starring SOLITARY MAN was coming out, but no release date has been announced.
Naturally, the biggest response I got from people about the entire column was about the a dumb, easily-avoidable mistake I made. So relax: A SERIOUS MAN, one of the hands-down best films of the year is coming out very, very soon. A SINGLE MAN, also reputed to be very good, is coming out in February. And I am now reading press releases very slowly with a silver yad so this doesn't happen again.
This is a news item I'd love to proclaim with all-out certainty, but my tried and trusted source(s) aren't sure if this is a total lock, or whether it's just someone they're seriously interested in. Either way, producers of THE HOBBIT have begun looking at casting for the dwarves (dwarfs?), and one name has emerged as a major contender: Brian Cox. He's a brilliant choice for the role: physically, he fits with the depiction of the the race in LOTR (well, Gimli), and he's a born Scotsman. Also, he could yell at Galadriel for adding narration. So there you go. If this comes to fruition, you heard it here first!
I'm surprised at how many people, particularly those who don't follow films in development, have been asking me about TOMORROW WHEN THE WAR BEGAN. It's not often that an Australian film generates this much excitement, but such is the popularity of John Marsden's massive multi-book series. The first photo of devastation has gone up on the web, from a newspaper that, based on its URL, is either called the Port Stephens Examiner or the Port Stephen Sexaminer. It's a scene of devastation, certainly not on a Roland Emmerich scale (interpret that as you will), but it appears to do everything it needs to. Click here for the link.
Last week saw THE REEF, a hugely-promising giant shark movie currently shooting in the north of Australia, achieve a World First. If you went to the website on Thursday the 5th, you'd have been able to watch them film the movie LIVE in front of you! To be honest, I was expecting the production to be a static camera sitting on a shelf behind the crew, and really, they could have got away with just that. But instead, they had it all covered: multiple angles, interviews with members of the crew, a chance to look through the lens of the camera as shots were being set up, eavesdropping on the cast as they awaited the setup... And thanks to other commitments, I only caught about an hour of the broadcast, so I can only imagine what the rest of it looked like! Did you miss the stream? Fear not! It's been recorded and uploaded so you can enjoy this unique experience at your leisure. Take a look-see here.
Australian films don't have the marketing budgets that their US counterparts have, and it appears that this has caused them to embrace free social networking sites more readily. Films currently in production, pre-production, or, in the case of THE NINJA, wild speculation, have all created Twitter accounts so you can follow the mostly-surprisingly-interesting updates. (If I've missed any more, or if there are New Zealand films I'm as-yet unaware of, send me an email or a tweet. I may make this a regular feature!) Click to follow superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, afore-mentioned giant shark movie THE REEF, awesome-looking giant squid movie $QUID, the Charlotte Gainsbourg-starring THE TREE, 1980s throwback THE NINJA and left-field sequel THE WOG BOY 2.
They aren't the only films from Australia/New Zealand submitted for Oscars this year, but they're probably the most interesting. First up is MARY AND MAX, currently shortlisted for Best Animated Feature. Although the odds apparently have it that the five nominees will be CORALINE, FANTASTIC MR FOX, PONYO, PRINCESS AND THE FROG and UP, the Australian claymation feature MARY AND MAX has a lot of support amongst animators, and has a good chance at an upset. Meanwhile, the Best Foreign Language category has changed its rules so that the language used in the film does not necessarily have to be the official or primary language of its country of origin. What difference does that make? The primary language of SAMSON AND DELILAH is the Aboriginal Warlpiri language, and thus it is one of sixty-five films shortlisted, with the final list of nominees to be announced on February 2, 2010. Given SAMSON AND DELILAH took out the Camera d'Or at Cannes this year, its nomination is looking very likely. (Based on the small number of films I've seen on the list, I'm sure we'll see Germany's THE WHITE RIBBON, Iran's ABOUT ELLY, and especially South Korea's MOTHER on there, although these are painfully subjective assumptions!)
John Waters: This Filthy World
I'm reluctant to tell you about this until I've bought a ticket m'self, but John Waters is coming to Australia to perform his one man show, "This Filthy World". He'll be in Melbourne on February 27, Brisbane on March 1, and Sydney on March 2. Tickets aren't on sale until the end of this month, but if I were you, I'd head to the ticketing websites (links: Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney ) and hit refresh continuously for the next two weeks.
I'm kind-of surprised that the bald-faced attempt to cash in on Michael Jackson's death is doing so well, but each to their own. Especially me. My own rock. Still, good to see MAO'S, IMAGINARIUM, and the surprisingly-good CHRISTMAS CAROL all doing well. (Don't forget, clicking on the titles with links takes you to my review of said film!)
The FBI investigates Roland Emmerich for his White House destruction fetish, an Oscar hopeful flies out into the world only to be never heard from again, Scott Hicks jumps on the "Let's make great Australian cinema in 2009" bandwagon, Rian Johnson's BRICK follow-up finally gets a fucking release here, Michael Moore endorses an end to society as we know it, the CASE series edges out in front of the SAW franchise, Robert Zemeckis completely fails to screw over a beloved classic, Oliver Parker's Oscar Wilde adaptation manages to sneak out without anybody noticing, I RAGAZZI SONO INDIETRO (sorry, Italians; blame BabelFish), I unavoidably miss the screening of this film despite planning to neither praise Caesar nor bury him, and I attempt to travel back to a time before I sat through this mostly-shoddy adaptation.
Australian release: November 29 // New Zealand release: TBA
I have a lot of respect for any film that tries to do something different. Films that start from a place of originality, or, at least, the path seldom traveled, are immediately in a better position than any easily-marketable remake or, as is in current vogue, board game adaptation. In that respect, at least, I give COLD SOULS a modicum of credit for not really looking like anything else being released over the next few months.
On the other hand, it's really not different enough. Although Charlie Kaufman balks at the term Kaufmanesque (spent ages searching for the link to the interview where he said that, but I can't find it -- sorry!), there's no denying the influence that his work -- hell, even just BEING JOHN MALKOVICH -- has had on cinema. Kauman takes a wildly extraordinary idea and works it through every conceivable tangent and facet. Every permeation of the concept is explored, and his films rarely, if ever, end up in the place you might have guessed in the beginning.
Sadly, the pretenders only notice the high concept quirks. Films like STRANGER THAN FICTION fail to explore their own central concept, and are somehow unable to make their characters engaging or believable. That's the key to Kaufman's work: despite the outlandish setup, the characters are real. That's why they work.
Enter COLD SOULS. Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti, an actor in a growing malaise. He notices an advertisement for Soul Storage -- your weighty soul can be removed, and your life can once again be without burden! -- and, after a brief and unconvincing period of skepticism, he heads in to have the procedure done.
Before you get excited, there's no real reason that Giamatti is playing himself. The film would have been no different if he'd been playing a fictitious actor. Although there's no actual problem with Giamatti playing himself, whatever baggage he has is not capitalised on. There's no point to it. It's an empty concept, and seems to have been employed largely because it worked in BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.
The film is not without its novel ideas: What happens when you are given someone else's soul? What would a second world version of this industry look like, and how would it exploit its clients and workers? Whose souls would be most desirable, and why? Although these ideas are handled well, they feel perfunctory; casual asides. These ideas should feel like they're building the mythology, adding to the story of the film, but the entire thing is played on one note, and there is no real sense of inclining tension.
I count myself as a big fan of Paul Giamatti and his dour persona -- when is someone going to cast him and Richard Schiff as brothers, incidentally? -- but the whole film is predicated on that one element of his persona. There's not a hell of a lot of emotion throughout, and any oscillations are usually played for laughs rather than weight. The few scenes in which his lack of soul causes him to act out are mere glimpses into more interesting directions the story could have taken. It's not really clear what his lack of soul is supposed to do to him. Does he become wild and unhinged, ignoring social norms? Does he start cheating on his wife, following his every hedonistic whim? Is he still a person, or a mere shell of impulses? These questions are only hinted at, dismissed in favour of what feels like the most straightforward story the concept might suggest.
The cast, if nothing else, is certainly appealing. Paul Giamatti, David Strathairn, Emily Watson, Lauren Ambrose, Dina Korzun, and Michael Stuhlbarg (of whom I am now a committed fan) are all solid, as expected, but have very little to work with.
Again, I give credit for having a concept we've not seen a hundred times before, but the direct similarities to its far superior influences only serve to point out this film's weaknesses.
Australian release: December 3 // New Zealand release: October 15
If there's an advantage to the occasional massive delay in film releases, it's that you may well find yourself seeing four new films from your favourite working director in the space of as many months. Following CHE PART ONE: THE ARGENTINE, CHE PART TWO: GUERILLA, and THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, we have THE INFORMANT!, a true-life comedy about an early 90s whistleblower at a major US cornstarch company.
Stylistically -- and using Soderbergh's filmography as a possibly-lazy reference point -- it's OCEAN'S 11 crossed with ERIN BROCKOVITCH. The film is unapologetically funny, and I'm once again reminded that, despite being a devoted fan, I always forget about Soderbergh's not insubstantial sense of humour. (It's not for everybody, but have a listen to his Criterion SCHIZOPOLIS commentary, one of the few commentaries that actually requires a 5.1 setup.) Pathos so often produces a "harumph" of forced laughter from the audience, given the mood is usually one of melancholia. Here, however, the pathos is laugh-out-loud funny, and even during a moment at the end of the film that, by all rights, should have been incredibly sobering and serious, I found the biggest laugh of the whole thing. It was a laugh based entirely on an expression from Matt Damon, one hundred percent in character.
It's tremendous stuff from Damon, although I'm starting to wonder if our sky-high expectations for him is starting to result in apathy as he consistently meets them. It's further proof that he's interested in complex characters in unusual films, and that he can execute their depiction better than most. It's also great to see Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey, Tony Hale and Thomas F. Wilson (looking and sounding alarmingly like Bruce McGill these days) getting such meaty, interesting roles.
The real star of the film, however, is the score by Marvin Hamlisch. Soderbergh has an uncanny ability to cast the perfect composer, be it David Holmes (OUT OF SIGHT, the OCEAN'S films), Thomas Newman (ERIN BROCKOVICH, THE GOOD GERMAN), or Cliff Martinez (THE LIMEY, TRAFFIC, SOLARIS). Composers who both fit with Soderbergh's style, but bring something new to the table, always putting a fascinating spin to the material. Hamlisch's score for THE INFORMANT! is one of the ballsiest, most brilliant scores I've heard, and easily knocks the film's overall quality up several notches. The mood of the whole thing is dictated by the 70s cop show vibe the composition brings, as if this is what Damon's Mark Whitacre has running through his head the entire time.
Once again, I fail to mention the screenwriter until the end of the review. Scott Z Burns (of THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM) does a fantastic job adapting Kurt Eichenwald's book (which I'll be reading in the near future). There were so many different ways to tell this story, yet this particular way, being the conscious point-of-view of Whitacre, is both the most compelling and the most original.
Brilliant and funny, this is unlike nearly any biopic you've ever seen. See it.
SOMERS TOWN (November 4, Region 4)
The film: Before my Girl Friday introduced me to the extraordinary ouvre of Mike Leigh, Shane Meadows's THIS IS ENGLAND had made me realise that I didn't actually hate British social realism like I'd always thought. (In fact, the film made the number three spot of my Best of 2007 list.) Either my tastes had matured, or my assumptions about the genre were false. Regardless, I now launch into the movement with enthusiasm, an attitude that was rewarded at last year's MIFF when I saw SOMERS TOWN, also by Meadows. Reuniting him with Thomas Turgoose, the lead from THIS IS ENGLAND, it's a small, discrete, wonderful film that, despite its black and white photography and council estate setting, is funnier and more full of hope than you'd expect. Fantastic film.
The extras: The trailer for the film is all you really get, which is a tad bittersweet. It's not a film that demands oodles of making ofs or outtakes, but I would have loved a commentary from Meadows. Still, the trailer's well cut, and sells the film well.
Should you buy it: No question. He doesn't get talked about often enough, but Shane Meadows is one of the most interesting filmmakers working in the mother country today, and SOMERS TOWN is a key piece of his filmography. Buy it.
LAST RIDE (November 4, Region 4)
The film: I didn't review this at the time, partly because I saw it halfway through its cinema run, and partly because I didn't quite know how I felt about it. It sort-of encapsulates everything wrong about the Australian film industry; another road trip across the Australian outback, another coming of age story, another grim and gritty run from the law. On the other hand, it was very well made, with a good script, some terrific photography, and some great acting on the part of Hugo Weaving and Tom Russell. But did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it? Basically, yes. If I ignore my prejudices and preconceived notions of what I think Australian cinema should be doing, I'm left with a film that does what it does very well.
The extras: What a package it is! Two discs, in a gorgeous cardboard slipcase! Nice to see a return to the classy card casing, given it seems to be out of fashion these days. Disc one features a great trailer and a couple of nicely-restrained teasers, plus a commentary with director Glendyn Ivin, DoP Greig Fraser and editor Jack Hutchings. The highlight of the second disc is the comprehensive and fascinating one hour documentary, going from pre-production through to the final day of post. There's also some rehearsal footage, web clips, deleted scenes, and a couple of shorts by Glendyn Ivin (including CRACKER BAG, his Palme d'Or-winning short film that played before LAST RIDE in cinemas). And if that wasn't enough, the set comes with a couple of postcards and a wonderful 48 page booklet filled with photos, a conversation between novelist Denise Young and screenwriter Mac Gudgeon, and excerpts from Glendyn Ivin's production journal! Going through the extras actually made me like the film more, and I'm almost tempted to go back and alter the review paragraph above to reflect this. It's a terrific package, lovingly crafted, and really does a terrific service to the material.
Should you buy it: A few months ago, I'm not sure I would have said yes, but the film has changed as I've reflected on it. Also, the extras package makes it a bit irresistible. The litmus test: now it's on my shelf, will I revisit it? The answer is yes, almost certainly. Given that, I'd say this is one you won't regret picking up.
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