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AICN-Downunder: HAPPY FEET 2 casting, lots of reviews, and some must-see trailers

Why not? You're a gambler. And darling... you are also a chump.


As this is my 187th AICN-Downunder (excluding individually-published reviews, Melbourne International Film Festival coverage, and Annual wrap-ups), I am going to devote this entire column to discussing the Samuel L Jackson drama 187.

No, not really. Although I really would like to watch it one day.

No, not really. But as 187 refers to the US police code for homicide, I am going to -- in the tradition of spurious segues -- talk about a death a little bit here. See, there was one significant death from the past fortnight that did not, in my view, get nearly enough coverage.

Is it the death of mysterious author JD Salinger, who brought us the iconic character Holden Caufield?

Is it the death of mysterious studio Miramax Films, who brought us the iconic character Holden McNeil?

No, it's the Jean Simmons, one of my all-time favourite actresses. I've always been baffled as to why Simmons hasn't been remembered the way her contemporaries are. She was every bit as talented, graceful and beautiful as Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly -- both of whom, I've just discovered, were born in the same year as Simmons -- and she had, I would argue, roughly as many iconic roles.

She was an amazing Ophelia in Olivier's HAMLET, and amazing as the Young Estella in David Lean's definitive adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS. But, to me, she'll always be Sgt Sarah Brown from my second favourite musical, GUYS AND DOLLS.*

Sarah Brown, a role originally intended for Grace Kelly, is the most interesting character in a film packed wall-to-wall with interesting characters, and Simmons ranks amongst the few actresses who have matched Brando beat-for-beat. She could do officious, vulnerable, silly, coy, and warm, usually in the space of a single scene, and without ever feeling forced.

And it's thanks to Simmons that whenever anyone says the word "chemistry" to me, I'm forced to respond in a fake-drunk sing-song voice, "Yeah, chemistry!". If you don't get that reference, it's another reason to go and hire -- or, better yet, buy -- GUYS AND DOLLS. Jean Simmons was one of the greats, and leaves behind a body of work that proves it.

* As if you have to ask, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.


We're hearing lots about the casting of HAPPY FEET 2, but I recently heard a rumour from source/drug-induced hallucination The Walrus that Elijah Wood might not be returning after all. If this pans out, I'm not sure they can get away with the usual "scheduling conflict" excuse, given voice over recording can generally be slotted into anyone's schedule. Was there a contractual disagreement? A creative dispute? Will Tom Hardy pull double-duty and replace Elijah Wood as well? If this happens (or, rather, doesn't happen), you heard it here first.

I'm dying to see BENEATH HILL 60, the Australian World War One film directed by Jeremy Sims (LAST TRAIN TO FREO) and starring Brendan Cowell (NOISE) and Gyton Grantley (BALIBO). A trailer's just been released -- and I wish I had a better link, but this will have to do -- and it's looking pretty good. The movie, not the trailer. The trailer's okay, but feels like one edit away from being something great (too many clichés, guys!). Still, the footage we see validates all my hopes and expectations for the film, which will be released later this year.

Irish director Gary McKendry, whose short film EVERYTHING IN THIS COUNTRY MUST was nominated for an Academy Award, will make his way to Australia this year to direct Jason Statham in THE KILLER ELITE. The film is based on the book "The Feather Men" by Ranulph Fiennes, and is not a remake of the Sam Peckinpah THE KILLER ELITE with James Cannes and Robert Duvall, which itself was based on the Robert Rostand novel "Monkey in the Middle". Still following? Good. The AU$32 million feature will, according to The Hollywood Reporter, begin filming this April. Oh, the plot? The battles between secret organisation The Clinic and secret organisation The Feather Men. So, essentially, "Get Smart", right?

The plot of new Western Australian film BLAME -- in which a group of young vigilantes "seek revenge for a sexual betrayal" -- makes it sound like it could be somewhere between I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and LADY VENGEANCE. Or am I just projecting? It probably won't go down the exploitation path, as it's described as being a psychological drama, but it still sounds like it could rock socks. We'll find out when the film premieres at the Melbourne International Film Festival in July. Although, I'm not sure which July, exactly. One of them.

I'm not sure what to make of NUMURKAH. Described to Encore Magazine as the first ever "climate change/zombie movie" by its Executive Producer John L. Simpson (and as "Gore meets Gore" by me... give it a moment), it's based on writer/director Ryan Coonan's short film which can be viewed here.

I'm not sure quite what to make of the film CANDYMAN, which premiered at Slamdance last week. It's directed by Costa Botes, who co-directed (alongside Peter Jackson), the very funny 1995 mockumentary FORGOTTEN SILVER. At first, I thought CANDYMAN might be another mockumentary, but a brief bit of research shows it to be real: it's the story of David Klein, inventor of Jelly Bellies. Check out the trailer here.

Speaking of not-being-sure-what-to-make-of-things, you have to check out this trailer for New Zealand horror film [COMPOUND]. Just do it. Thank me later.

And speaking (yet again) of trailers and thanking me later, Sydney filmmaker Carl Firth sent me a link to his mock trailer for the doesn't-exist action/revenge film THE WATER. You know how people always say they lol-ed when, in fact, they just smiled? I actually did lol. Out loud, too. Check it out.

Since I'm going all Morning Read on you and posting links to cool things, you might have seen the remix of UP that was floating around. Well, "Nada One" sent a link through, and apparently the guy who did that remix (Pogo) is Australian. And he's done a bunch of others for MARY POPPINS, HOOK, HARRY POTTER, etc. Whether it's for you or not, it's really compelling stuff and worth checking out.

Last year, I got the chance to visit the set of ANIMAL KINGDOM and watch director David Michôd film some scenes with Guy Pearce. Well, the film has now premiered at Sundance, and Australian film journalism legend Simon de Bruyn recently interviewed him for Twitch. In fact, it's such a good interview, I'm really tempted to steal it. Instead, I might steal this scoop instead: Twitch has pointed us to the ANIMAL KINGDOM teaser poster, as designed by Jeremy Saunders, who got a lot of deserved attention last year for his brilliant ANTICHRIST poster.

Australian films currently on Twitter. (Don't have any New Zealand films yet -- if you know of any, please send them in!) Read about their surprisingly-interesting travels from production through post-production! Click to follow the extraordinary BALIBO, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, animated brilliance MARY AND MAX, 1980s action throwback THE NINJA, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant shark movie THE REEF, giant squid movie $QUID, the Charlotte Gainsbourg-starring THE TREE, awards-scooping drama SAMSON AND DELILAH, and left-field sequel THE WOG BOY 2.


60th Berlin International Film Festival

Patrick Hughes's RED HILL, starring Ryan Kwanten from "True Blood" and GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, has been selected to play in the Panorama Special within Berlin's official programme.

21st Alliance Française French Film Festival

The annual French Film Festival that takes place across nearly all of Australia's capital cities (sorry, Hobart and Darwin!) always has a great line up, and every year I kick myself for missing it. Well, this year they're going to need a lot of security to keep me away: Jean-Pierre Jeunet is coming to open the festival with his new film MICMACS. That's right. Jeunet. France's best filmmaker (in my opinion, of course), who directed AMELIE and A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, and co-directed the classics DELICATESSEN and THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. The festival begins in March, but now is the time to book tickets.

2010 London Australian Film Festival

I love the title of this festival. And I really hope, somewhere, that there's a Melbourne England Film Festival. (Well, by "somewhere", I mean in Melbourne...) Australian success story THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is set to screen there in March, and producer Pete Astbury hopes this will be the springboard for international distribution. As do we all! Londoners can take a look at the schedule here.

Paul McGann presents WITHNAIL AND I

Okay, so Jack White's band The Dead Weather are playing in Melbourne on March 19, and it's their only Melbourne date, and I have a ticket, and I can't wait, and I'm all excited... buuuut, it's also the same night that Paul McGann will be at the Astor Theatre presenting WITHNAIL AND I and doing a Q&A afterwards. This is sort-of like my own personal SOPHIE'S CHOICE. But seeing as how The Dead Weather got to me first, you'll all have to tell me how it went. Go to the Astor website to book tickets.


Australia wins the tussle this week, what with it being one SQUEAKQUEL less embarrassing than New Zealand's list. And, as always, those handy-dandy links take you to my original review of linked film.



New Zealand



Nic Cage still can't shake the curse of the bad wig, Australian dourness is left behind in this bright musical, Pedro wrestles his muse back from Woody, an aspiring dancer finds Hindi hindrances, a former Power Ranger writes and directs a mystery thriller (seriously,IMDb it), it is actually possible for a film to be too funny, this title is actually Latin for "Spies Like Us", the Meryl Streep/Amy Adams film gets a severe re-edit, Harvey Weinstein considers this remake to be fractionally better than the original, The Rock creates the perfect double feature for THE GAME PLAN, I'm not even going to bother pretending I'm not excited about this, I'm guessing all you care about this film is that Jay Chou from THE GREEN HORNET is in it, and Nicki Cox gets us drunk.




Australian/New Zealand release: January 21

In the endless divisions of people in the world -- ie: "There are two types of people in the world..." -- the optimist/pessimist divide remains the most telling. I found myself on both sides of that fence after the screening of INVICTUS. "There was nothing really wrong with that," I thought. Then, later: "But I don't think there was anything really right with it, either."

That's not entirely true. The things that the film gets right -- outside from the basic competency you expect from a film at this level, cinematography, editing, etc -- mainly centre around the performances. Morgan Freeman makes good on a decade(s)-long promise to play Mandella on film, and in doing so delivers a performance unlike anything he's done in years. Matt Damon is great as ever, but what's impressive is how comfortably he slips into what is essentially a supporting role. There are also some great turns from Adjoa Andoh and Tony Kgoroge.

With the exception of the music -- which lurches from "moving" to "sappy nonsense" without pausing for breath -- there really isn't much wrong with the film. It lacks a certain je ne sais quoi that would elevate it above "Well, that was pleasant. What's for dinner?". I'm not sure a film that tackles racial reconciliation in post-Apartheid South Africa should really be pleasant, and yet the part of me that doesn't really want to be taxed at nine in the morning did, in fact, appreciate this.

Clint Eastwood is notorious for working quickly, and you get the feeling that this speedy work ethic is the film's biggest hindrance. (On the other hand, if we weren't privvy to Eastwood's schedule habits, it's unlikely we'd look at the film and say "Well, they should have spent longer on that".) INVICTUS is definitely a good film, but it really should have been great. Freeman's Mandella certainly is.


Australian/New Zealand release: February 4

I'm tempted to call this the feel-good movie of the year. And without irony, too. Well, not a lot of irony. I went into this film complaining to a friend about the lousy city traffic I'd just been stuck in that nearly made me late for the screening. After the film, I was relieved that the worst thing in my day had been crappy traffic, instead of -- SPOILERS to follow -- discovering that, as an obese sixteen year old black girl, my abusive mother had stood by as my father had repeatedly raped me, making me pregnant for a second time (after first giving birth to a girl with Downs Syndrome). Oh, and I can barely read and write. Sure, it's a pretty depressing tale, but it does make you feel pretty damned good about your own life. Provided those things haven't happened to you, I mean.

Director Lee Daniels makes some pretty bold choices, and it's going to be down to the mood of the audience as to whether they work or not. I could see the somewhat overly-stylised direction turning some people off, but most of the time it works pretty well. I think. It's a pretty interesting high wire act, and I might need to see it again (yikes!) before I can fully attest to whether it works or not. But in a pinch, I'd err on the side of yes.

It's a powerful tale, bleak as hell, but oddly engaging. The direction is solid (particularly the direction of the actors), the script is tight, and the performances themselves are extraordinary. Where the hell did they find Gabourey Sidibe? She's incredible as Precious, almost completely folded into herself, and just when you start to think that's what Sidibe must be like in real life, we launch into a fantasy sequence in which she plays her idealised version of herself. Paula Patton -- whom I was genuinely convinced was Halle Berry until I just IMDbed the film -- is superb as Precious's teacher. Mo'Nique overcomes the silliness of her name to give us one of the -- oh god, I'm about to use this term -- bravest performances I've seen in a long time. "Brave" is generally a term thrown idly about when an actor (a) plays a marginally-dislikable character, or (b) gets naked, but this is the sort of performance that the now-meaningless word should be reserved for. Oh, and I can't believe I'm typing this, but Mariah Carey is amazing. Seriously.

It was weird watching this hit of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival the day before the 2010 Sundance Film Festival began, but there it is. It's got some heavy stuff in it, but it avoids turning into Bleakness Porn, despite the lengthy shopping list of horrific elements it contains. When I got out of the film, I thought, "Well, thank god that's over." And the next day, I thought, "I'd really like to see that again." So count that as a big recommendation.


Australian release: February 11 // New Zealand release: February 26

It came as a shock to me -- but shouldn't to regular readers of this column -- that I am almost completely out of touch with the critical community. The Palme d'Or was won by THE WHITE RIBBON, which I found to be a complete non-event. I was mostly uninspired by festival favourites BRIGHT STAR, ANTICHRIST, and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. And the Grand Prix was won by A PROPHET, which, I am very sorry to say, left me cold. The prison-set film by Jacques Audiard is a long haul at 150 minutes, and I spent a lot of that time trying to figure out what it was going for.

At its best, it appears to be shooting for an early-Scorsese-esque crime epic, a bleak and violent piece of social realism. But those inferences occurred only when I put in effort to meet the film halfway (or, it felt, nine-tenths of the way). The rest of the time, I was somewhere between irritated and bored, and I think I can discount outside influences, as I was in a pretty open, receptive, relaxed mood when I walked in.

I tried to analyse why it had become so popular. Was it the journey of lead character Malik? Perhaps. Although he ends up in a very different place to where he started out, it does feel like a pretty one-note transformation. Once you see where he'd headed, it's only a matter of waiting out the next stage of his journey. There are few twists and turns, few subversions of expectation.

Was the popularity down to the religious imagery? It's laid on pretty thick, and though I've been guilty of enjoying a bit of overt religious symbolism in the past, the films that do it well tend to earn it. The imagery is there to complement the text, or provide some sort of ironic commentary on the character. Here, it feels perfunctory and lazy, signifying nothing.

What does that leave us? Very little. At two-and-a-half hours, A PROPHET plods along, never descending into "awful" territory, but never rising to or above any other prison movie we've seen.


LE CORBEAU (THE RAVEN) (January 11, Region 4)

The film: It's sort-of amazing when you realise that LE CORBEAU was made in France in 1942. You might expect that the world focused on nothing but World War Two during that period, particularly France, yet Clouzot was able to make this paranoia-infested whodunnit that be so easily read as being nothing to do with the war, or completely about the war. It's an amazing work, and you can see where it left its fingerprints over the works of Hitchcock, French New Wave, New Hollywood. The story, based on a true story, follows a small French town whose residents begin receiving mysterious letters uncovering their darkest secrets. It's powerful, compelling, and surprisingly uncensored; sex, swearing, abortions... no topic is too sordid, and given the year in which it was made, it's amazing that it doesn't even feel as if it's holding back. Clouzot is one of the unsung greats of the 20th century, and LE CORBEAU shows why. (Er, why he's a great, not why he's unsung.)

The extras: There's an original trailer, which is always impressive for films several decades old. There's a commentary by the ubiquitous Dr Adrian Martin, whose extensive knowledge and trivia is actually quite interesting.

Should you buy it: Absolutely. If you dig the standard classics like Fritz Lang's M or anything by Alfred H, then LE CORBEAU will slot pretty comfortably into your collection. And you'll probably enjoy watching it as well.

LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO (January 11, Region 4)

The film: My first Luigi Comencini film! My first Commedia all'Italiana film! (As far as I know.) I love Italian cinema, but I know I'm still in the early stages of getting to know it properly. (Although Scorsese's MY VOYAGE TO ITALY made me feel as if I knew it all intimately before I started ploughing happily through them. Best documentary ever? Probably. But I digress.) Madman Entertainment is steadily releasing classic French and Italian films, many of which have been neglected for decades, and for this -- the release, not the neglect -- I am thankful. LO SCOPONE SCIENTIFICO is a dark comedy about an aging American woman (Bette Davis, mouthing the dialogue in English as someone else dubs Italian over her, in that grand old tradition) who returns to an Italian villa every year to challenge an impoverished local couple to a card game called Lo Scopone Scientifico. The couple tries, every year, in vain, to win money from the old woman to improve their lot. As the couple greedily chases fortune, their children work quietly away in the background, earning money and keeping their household going. The performances (including one by the great Joseph Cotton!) are all terrific, and Comencini's cutting humour is both unforgiving and hilarious. The conclusion manages to be both touching, frightening, and damned funny. The way he balances this subtle conclusion makes its obscurity all the more baffling.

The extras: There's nary an extra to be found on the set (aside from some trailers for other Madman titles), so I shall instead continue my vigilant critique of subtitling errors. The subtitles in LO SCOPONE are, for the most part, solid, but there was one bit that made me laugh: one character answers the phone (in Italian, of course), with "Pronto". The subtitle? "Straight away!" I love that someone knows Italian well enough to translate it into English for a DVD, but not enough to know that "pronto" is the traditional Italian phone greeting. Well, it made me laugh...

Should you buy it: If you love your classic Italian cinema, then definitely. If you don't, then this probably isn't the film to change your mind.

BROKEN ENGLISH (Month #, Region 4)

The film: On one hand, I do feel sorry for Zoe Cassavetes. Between the massive success of her father and the modest success of her brother, she's got a lot to live up to. On the other hand, she probably got her film greenlighted because her name is Cassavetes, and so the sympathy doesn't last long. In fact, it flat-out evaporates after you've sat through BROKEN ENGLISH, which is the sort of film you expect to see from a university student who doesn't understand that their personal problems are not interesting merely because they're filmed. It's another "Why does nobody love me?" sort-of film, in which nothing happens beyond the main character lurching from disastrous date to post-date whinge to disastrous date again. The Boss character is comically fanatical about organising the company picnic! The movie star she falls for turns out to have a girlfriend! Every single Frenchman is a charming philosopher who does nothing but drink wine all day! The last one is my favourite. One character like this, I could forgive, but the film introduces no fewer than six Philosopher Frenchmen, five of whom serve the exact same purpose as one another. The solid, albeit stereotypically-indie cast of Parker Posey, Drea De Matteo, Justin Theroux and Gena Rowlands (who is, of course, Zoe's mother) is decent, but cannot save this plotless mess as it limps from pointless scene to pointless scene. Oh, and the ending? If I were Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, or Julie Delpy, I'd be waiting for my royalty cheque. The end of BEFORE SUNSET was powerful, beautiful, and earned. The ending of BROKEN ENGLISH, word-for-word the same last two lines, in the same fucking city no less, carries no weight, and is almost comical in its failure, especially as the comparison to that far-superior film shows up BROKEN ENGLISH's failures even more.

The extras: Just a trailer. I didn't actually bother watching it.

Should you buy it: You should not.

VAN DIEMEN'S LAND (January 20, Region 4)

The film: When I saw VAN DIEMEN'S LAND at MIFF 2009, I was conflicted: there was so much to like about the film, and yet it was also quite frustrating in how damned static it was. It's so beautifully shot and well-acted and there's so much to admire in there, but the lack of compelling story or any undulation in mood -- despite all the fighting and dying! -- infused it with a dullness that forced me to resist my honest desire to love this film. It's an annoying dichotomy of emotion, and either enforces or dispels the idea that Australian film critics are overly kind to Australian films. So much to admire in this film, and yet, irritatingly, not enough.

The extras: Occasionally, a commentary will change my mind about a film, and that was my hope with the commentary by writer/director Jonathan auf der Heide, writer/actor Oscar Redding, and cinematography Ellery Ryan. Funnily, the commentary has the exact same effect on me that the film did: it's informative, mildly amusing, amiable, and yet not really compelling in any way. Although, if I'm kind, I'd point out that might have appreciated the commentary more if I'd liked the film more, so it's an all-or-nothing deal. The other extras are much the same, not specifically bad, but not particularly inspiring, either.

Should you buy it: Rent it first. Some of you are going to love it and think I'm a crazy person for not "getting" it, so give it a look first.


- Following Wes Anderson's FANTASTIC MR FOX, Roald Dahl gets another update with the social media-inspired adaptation THE TWEETS

- Dreamworks delays the new SHREK film so they can use newly-developed technology that will downgrade it to stunning, traditional 2D

- Columbia will release THIS IS (THE HANG OF) IT, which will feature the rehearsals for JD Salinger's planned stadium concert


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