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AICN-Downunder: CRAZY HEART, A SINGLE MAN, and more!!

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Two new movie trailers for you. First is the teaser for David Michod's Sundance-winning ANIMAL KINGDOM, starring Guy Pearce, Ben Mendlesohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver and James Frecheville. Second is the trailer for RED HILL, starring Ryan Kwanten and Steve Bisley. And if you think RED HILL looks like Australia's answer to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, you'll understand why many Australian film journalists have been doing little dances of joy for the past couple of weeks. Also out is the trailer for Peter Helliar's I LOVE YOU TOO, a romantic comedy starring Brendan Cowell, Helliar, and Peter Dinklage.

One of the common complaints about Australian films is that they don't expand into enough genres. Thankfully, this seems to be a thing of the past: following the success of Australian musical BRAN NUE DAE, production will begin this coming Monday on A HEARTBEAT AWAY, a musical comedy directed by first-timer Gale Edwards. Isabel Lucas (DAYBREAKERS) and Colin Friels (DARK CITY) are rumoured to be among the cast.

This one snuck in under the radar! SINBAD AND THE MINOTAUR has begun filming in Queensland this week. Directed by Karl Zwicky and written by Jim Noble, the film will star 30 DAYS OF NIGHT actor Manu Bennett as Sinbad. Interested to see how this one turns out: DISTRICT 9-level sleeper hit, or direct-to-video? Place your bets.

Mea culpa time. In my last column, I "scooped" that Elijah Wood would not be returning to do HAPPY FEET 2. Sure enough, barely a day later, Elijah Wood landed in Australia, ready to record his voice for HAPPY FEET 2. As a fan of HAPPY FEET and of Wood, this makes me happy. As a writer hoping not to destroy what little credibility he had, it made me sad. But, either way, my bad. Additionally, two columns back I managed to call get the title wrong of Soderbergh's Sydney Theatre Company play (it's TOT MOM, not the intriguing but ultimately incorrect TOM MOT). I also failed to mention the great Essie Davis was in it, despite the fact that she was playing the lead role! She's also, I'm told, playing the lead in the unnamed improvised film Soderbergh shot during the TOT MOM rehearsals, which I kind-of need to see now.


82nd Academy Awards

We've become so complacent in Australia at our actors and directors and technicians sweeping in and collecting all the Oscars, that when one year it doesn't happen, all the headlines proclaim how snubbed we were! Although, this time, they may have a point. Big congratulations to MIRACLE FISH, which picked up a nomination in the Short Film Live Action category, and to costume designer Janet Patterson for her work on BRIGHT STAR. (I didn't like the film, but the costumes were indeed superb, so I'm in Patterson's cheer section for this one.) Astonishingly, Australian claymation film MARY AND MAX did not receive a nomination. I'd like to rant about which animated film stole its spot, but the only two I've seen in that category (UP and FANTASTIC MR FOX) were both brilliant. Even more notably, SAMSON AND DELILAH, which had made it through to the pre-nomination round of Best Foreign Language Film, shockingly missed out as well. Given how powerfully overrated I considered Michael Haneke's THE WHITE RIBBON to be (and I didn't really like A PROPHET
, either), this category really got my goat up. (And yes, I know that awards don't really mean anything, but a nomination and perhaps a win would have brought a hell of a lot of well-deserved attention to SAMSON AND DELILAH.)

2010 Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance winners were announced the day after the last AICN-Downunder, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the big win: Australian crime film ANIMAL KINGDOM took out the world cinema grand jury prize, pretty much locking in funding for whatever director David Michod wants to do next. The film is now being released in Australia on April 29 instead of May 6, which puts it in direct competition with IRON MAN 2. Ballsy!


A fairly predictable line-up. Although the part of me that breaks out in yawns when people bitch about AVATAR is delighted to see it still atop the charts.



New Zealand



The Spierig Brothers go from zombies to vampires, Marc Lawrence lives up to the promise he displayed in MUSIC AND LYRICS, the Jewish Media Conspiracy cleverly makes Mel Gibson's comeback film a piece of crap, the lack of William Shatner narration in this film is worrying, Christopher Columbus paves the way for I expect will be a superior entry by Alfonso Cuaron, Sapphire's novel about kids with superpowers gets an unexpected name change, A PROPHET is hoping to make A PROFIT.... hahahaha... get it?, LOVE ACTUALLY gets a US remake/butt-fuck, and Lon Chaney Jr spins in the grave of someone he just ate.




Australian release: February 18 // New Zealand release: February 25

It's an odd time of year for those of us in the colonies. All the films that rushed out in the US in November and December in order to qualify for Oscar nominations now trickle out internationally, their release dates spread between the nominations announcement and the awards themselves, with Oscar publicity piggy-backed for some free press.

Enter CRAZY HEART. The story of a drunken, forgotten country singer Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) trying to claw his way back to success achieves a level of realism simply by being low-key it is. For the first half of the film, there are no overwrought dramatics or contrived situations; it's just people acting like people, and it works. Maggie Gyllenhaal is the single mother reporter who interviews Blake, and she has great chemistry with Bridges. (Has anyone ever had bad chemistry with Bridges?) It's Bridges, however, who truly grounds the film, and the fact that his character and performance are the best things about the film is the best example of the film's main strength and biggest weakness.

When, two thirds of the way through, the film lurches into fairly limp attempt at a dramatic threat, the twist mostly serves to underline how little has happened in the film so far. When a sudden, left-turn moment of Plot jumps into view, the character studies you've been watching up until that point turn suddenly from interesting to undramatic. If you're not sure how to mix the low-key character stuff with the heightened dramatic plot turns, go rent Altman's SHORT CUTS. At least there the Big Moments were bone-chilling and effective. The "threat" in CRAZY HEART is not a threat at all, and feels like it was shoe-horned in from a much worse film.

This is not to say I didn't like the film, but this "twist" combined with the fairly plodding resolution of Blake's story really don't do CRAZY HEART any favours. That said, I'm going to recommend it. For all its flaws, you still get to see Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall being excellent, you get a series of pretty good country songs, and you get to see Jeff Bridges in the performance that will likely net him the Oscar he's long-deserved. Because, when it comes down to it, that's what this film is largely about.


Australian release: February 25 // New Zealand release: May 6

Aspiring filmmakers may well be annoyed at Tom Ford who, having never made a film and being a fashion designer person, begun with an awards-laden drama with an all-star cast. They may well be annoyed further to discover just how good a director Tom Ford is, and what a superb piece of work A SINGLE MAN really is.

Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the film is a day-in-the-life of George, a gay 1960s English professor whose partner has recently died in a car accident. George is an extremely restrained, constructed man, and the film is shot through the filter of this restraint. Even when everything appears to fall apart, it's falling apart within such a perfectly rigid structure. It's a powerful effect.

There are a few moments that don't quite work. There's the dance scene, which seems to have been included as a sort-of retro-trendoid attention-getter, designed to elicit an "Aren't Colin and Julianne simply divine in that scene? It's so iconic!" reaction. The final moments of the film (fear not, spoilerphobes) feel forced; almost as if they're included because they worked brilliantly in the book; sadly, the ending doesn't quite have the pathos it shoots for. A possibly-heretic departure from the source text might have made for a more affecting conclusion.

These two issues do not ruin this excellent film. Colin Firth, whom I've always liked, is better than he's ever been; Julianne Moore, Nicholas Hoult, and Matthew Goode are all perfect in their supporting roles, and each pull off their other-side-of-the-pond accents very well. But what really makes this film work is the direction. Tom Ford's eye is an extraordinary one, and his use of shifting colour to indicate mood may seem overt, but it's certainly effective. Definitely one to see.


- The fourth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film is cancelled, as Disney forges ahead with its plans to show a young Captain Jack Sparrow in his high school years

- Sam Mendes to make a film about the evolution of an ancient Pakistani tribe in EVOLUTIONARY OAD

- Ashton Kutcher and Tara Reid will play scientists who, the night before traveling back in time to be shrunk down and inserted into the brain of a dying 19th Century Impressionist artist, get married in a drunken spur-of-the-moment, in WHAT HAPPENS IN DEGAS

Peace out,


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