AICN-Downunder: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, UP IN THE AIR, and another piece of HOBBIT news
Published at: Dec. 4, 2009, 7:40 a.m. CST by merrick
I'm like my mother: I stereotype. It's faster.
It's fair to say the Indonesian Government gets pretty well torn-asunder in Robert Connolly's masterpiece BALIBO. The Australian Government doesn't fare much better, but I'm proud to say that we, at least, did not censor it. The Indonesian Government called on the LSF (their censorship board) to ban the film, as the film contradicts the official Indonesian line: that the Balibo Five were killed accidentally in crossfire. The LSF complied, and the film has been prevented from playing at the Jakarta International Film Festival, where it was scheduled to screen in the coming weeks.
The Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, however, defied the ban, and the film screened this past Thursday night. "You may think of this as our way of protesting the government ban," said Nezar Patria, the chair of the Alliance of Independent Journalists. "This is not a public screening, just for a group of people in a theatre with a limited number of seats. We think the movie is a valuable lesson."
There's been no fallout yet from the screening, but it's hardly over yet. Ezki Suyanto, a member of the AJI, announced that further screenings are planned, with the Alliance's twenty-six branches all given access to the film.
As banning a film has traditionally been the best way to ensure a lot of people will see it, I hope that Indonesia's banning is one hundred per cent effective.
AICN-Downunder: your one-stop shop for HOBBIT casting news. There's nothing like breaking the (admittedly-unconfirmed) news about Brian Cox getting all dwarf-like to bring your old sources out of the woodwork. Another trusted anonymous name from way back -- who, I might add, had heard the Brian Cox rumours before I published them -- has another name to add to the pile: Tom Waits. As much as I'd like to say he's a lock, I'm told he's simply someone the production is talking about -- but they seem to be talking about him pretty seriously. But how inspired is this? So very left field, yet oddly perfect. And here I was thinking Cox was the coolest guy they could hand an axe to.
Given this info has been out for a while, this piece qualifies less as news and more as pub conversation. Brian Trenchard-Smith, the director who finally got the recognition he deserved after Quentin Tarantino outed himself as a big fan in his presence in Mark Hartley's NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, is in the midst of a new film! Unless Screen Australia's website is out of date (and, to be honest, I already found one erroneous director attribution), he is currently in production on ARCTIC BLAST, about a massive ice fog that emerges from the South Pole and heads north, destroying everything in its path. Fuck 2012, right?
I haven't asked him about it or anything, but it's a safe bet that David Michod is having a pretty good week. His directorial debut ANIMAL KINGDOM, starring Guy Pearce, Luke Ford, Ben Mendelsohn and Joel Edgerton. Also accepted into the festival was HESHER, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman, which Michod co-wrote. Also accepted is New Zealand film BOY, Aussie 3D film CANE TOADS: THE CONQUEST, and musical comedy BRAN NUE DAE.
A friend of mine works at an indie cinema in Melbourne, and tells me that before each screening of Duncan Jones's MOON, someone announces to the audience that what they're about to watch is not NEW MOON, just in case they've bought the wrong ticket. That's either the funniest or saddest story I've heard in months. I'm not sure yet.
1. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON
3. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
4. THE INVENTION OF LYING
5. A CHRISTMAS CAROL
1. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON
3. CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS
4. THE INVENTION OF LYING
5. THIS IS IT
Kirsten Stewart joins Team Aaron Stanford, Steven Soderbergh re-coolifies Scott Bakula, the "IN" is accidentally dropped from the middle of the title, it's the remake everybody wanted, I dream longingly of a time before I sat through this, the wait was so very worth it, and Jesse Eisenberg reaches the middle stage of his Land Suffix Trilogy.
Australian release: December 3 // NZ release: January 7
What am I, like the last person to review this? Actually, this is a review that sort-of hinges on coming in on the tail-end of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY's hysteria. I've heard all about how it's the most profitable film of all time, and how its success can be attributed to a grass-roots movement that wasn't actually a grass-roots movement at all, and everyone's saying it's the scariest film of all time... but it's refreshing to peel all of that away and uncover the most overhyped film of 2009.
Before I get accused of being influenced by all the hype surrounding the film, let me say this: yes. I am influenced by all the hype surrounding the film. It would be idiotic to suggest otherwise. But as nearly everyone in Australia has also been influenced by that hype, this isn't the most disingenuous way to approach it.
The reputation of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT has dropped pretty steadily over the last few years, due to a lot of factors: the comically unwatchable sequel, the fact that the directors of the original failed to make good on the promise many saw, and the fact that once you know the ending, the impact of the whole film sort of dissipates retroactively. Also, a lot of people genuinely didn't like the film, so there's that as well. But if you look at the BLAIR WITCH in the context of its time, it was something pretty remarkable. The general public wasn't used to seeing mockumentary horrors, as the style of the time favoured the self-aware SCREAM and its stylistic copycats. BLAIR WITCH was a shock to the system, and despite the respectful debt it owed its predecessors (notably CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST), it was something new.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is nothing new. In fact, there is not one moment or scare that doesn't feel incredibly familiar, and I'm hardly the world's biggest horror buff. To the film's credit, it executes these moments quite well, even though I didn't jump once, and, historically, I'm a great big scaredy-cat.
The film's problems outweigh its well-performed moments. For a start, the two leads are wholly unlikable. They pretty much take turns in playing skeptic/believer. In one moment, the guy has captured proof on his camera and thinks he can trap this ghost thing that's haunting them, but the girl isn't interested and just wants to work on her English essay. In the next moment, the girl is begging the help of a psychic whilst the guy quietly mocks him for reasons that are never made clear. The reason, incidentally, is because characters need conflict, and if you can't create it organically, it's much easier to have characters betray everything they were doing in the previous scene. If you've ever seen teenagers try to improvise serious scenes, you'll have seen one of them yell out "Fuck!" at a random moment, mostly because he doesn't know what else to do; the hope is that this sudden exclamation will imply that tension has actually been building all this time. This amateurish trick is actually used here. I almost burst out laughing.
Aside from their complete lack of empathy, the other problem with them is the fact that they are young, rich, white, good-looking twenty-somethings. Ah ha, that's right, I'm pulling out The CLOVERFIELD Maneuver! That seemingly-nonsensical argument that films like these are somehow less believable because the main characters are pretty and rich. Well, it's actually not a nonsensical argument. Both CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY are trying to convince us, through the use of "found footage", that what we're watching is real. The cast immediately undercuts this, as they look exactly like the pretty teen casts we see in every single other non-mockumentary horror film! I get why your typical slasher films do this: you need pretty faces for a poster. But if mockumentaries really want to convince us that what we're watching is real -- and, let's be honest, that's half the point of the mockumentary -- then they should try showing us a broader cross-section of the community. How about an ethnic minority? How about overweight people? How about the elderly? How about -- and I know I'm stretching here -- the ugly? When films like CLOVERFIELD and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY essentially transport the casts of "The OC" and "Glee" ("Glee" is a thing, right?), it instantly destroys its key advantages.
Annoying and inconsistent though they are, the characters are tolerable. What's more annoying is the repetitiveness of the format. They go to bed. Scary shit happens. Repeat ad nauseam. Again, the things that actually happen are done well, but there's no variation. No real alteration to the format. It's one note hit over and over again, and whilst I love the score to EYES WIDE SHOT, repetitive notes do not for an interesting film make.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY is not a terrible film, and it certainly didn't irritate me as much as the mockumentary horror HOME MOVIE did earlier this year. But its reputation is doing it no favours. It's not the scariest film of the year (for my money: DRAG ME TO HELL). Hell, it's not even the scariest mockumentary film of the year (can you imagine what would have happened if the far-superior LAKE MUNGO had received this sort of studio distribution?). It's a mildly unoriginal, curiously un-frightening horror film that will pass the time well for teens who haven't seen a horror film that doesn't have "SAW" in the title. The rest of us, however, should know better.
UP IN THE AIR
Australian release: January 7 // New Zealand release: January 14
The number of ways in which Brett Ratner's FAMILY MAN fails could fill a phone book several times over, but the key one for me was always the depiction of Nicolas Cage's lifestyle. (Spoilers will follow, but let's be honest: the only way you could truly be spoiled is if you actually watched the film.) When the film starts, Nic Cage is single, rich, family-less, and very happy. When the anti-IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE transition occurs and he suddenly finds himself with a family, he becomes miserable. Naturally, the film ends with Cage trying to get back to this family life he clearly found less fulfilling than his rich prick life. What's the message? Forget what works best for you: the nuclear family is still the norm, and if you don't want that, you're wrong.
UP IN THE AIR starts with a similar premise: George Clooney's character loves his jetsetting, single lifestyle, and wouldn't give it up for anything. Does he grow? Does he change? Will his beliefs be turned on their head? If you don't know the answer to that, you've probably never seen a movie before. The good news is that UP IN THE AIR handles this question with a lot more grace than FAMILY MAN did, refusing to indict or judge the man's life whilst still pointing out its low points. It doesn't stop there, though: the supposed acceptable norm of what happiness is also gets a subtle ringing, suggesting that nobody really has it right.
It's a message I have a lot of time for, especially as it will likely subvert the expectations that films of this ilk usually arouse. Nobody's going to come out of this film depressed, but nor will they be handed the pat, satisfactory ending that they're hoping for. It seems to be the modus operandi of Jason Reitman; his films look like they're heading towards something predictable and soul-placating, but veer off slightly to a place of mild ambiguity.
George Clooney makes great use of his baggage (unintentional pun, sorry about that), showing up the sadness that comes with being a middle-aged playboy, as well as the obvious benefits. His charms and style look quite different when reflected upon people who aren't operating in a world of charm (his small-town sisters, for example, seem immune and exhausted by this side of him). The film takes advantage of Clooney's style whilst simultaneously shining a light on it.
The supporting cast is one of the best things about the film. Vera Farmiga almost steals the film from under Clooney, with one of the most charismatic performances of the year. Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Melanie Lynskey, and, well, everyone who turns up does solid, superb work. I have remained completely dumbfounded by the popularity of Danny McBride in the past, but he's really good here, showing that (for my money) he might be best served with understated drama than broad comedy.
If you're keeping score, Jason Reitman is now three-for-three; although I prefer THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and JUNO, UP IN THE AIR is a more-than-respectable entry in the man's filmography. The film still lacks that important x-factor that would turn it into a work of greatness, but it sits comfortably as being very, very good.
- THE KARATE KID gets yet another remake, with Steven Segal playing mentor to Kodi Smit-McPhee in THE SHOOTING PEOPLE A LOT KID
- Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock will play Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun (respectively) in new Third Reich/pregnancy comedy NEIN MONTHS
- Steven Spielberg promises the next JURASSIC PARK sequel will be a lot cheaper, as Martin Lawrence dons a fat suit for BIG MAMMAL'S HOUSE