AICN-Downunder: KICK-ASS, GREEN ZONE and THE RED SHOES returns!
Published at: March 12, 2010, 10:25 a.m. CST by merrick
You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.
You know the drill: a piece of news, a rundown on box office and new releases, then a whole lot of sanctimonious critiquing. Enjoy!
Not a ton of news this week... or maybe I just haven't looked hard enough. The second one. But one thing that did pique my interest was a new film called NEEDLE. It's been great to see Australian films get back into genre, and NEEDLE appears to be continuing that tradition. It's a horror film that appears to be a more-entertaining version of FINAL DESTINATION, and it's got Ben Mendolsohn and John Jarrat in it. So, sold. Check out the trailer by clicking here.
So, you didn't heed my warning about ALICE IN WONDERLAND, huh? Well, if you'd like to retroactively heed it (or just read it), plus other previous, AICN-Downunder reviews of the below new releases, all you need to do click on the film title. And if you think that's simple, wait until you read the reviews.
Australian release: March 11// New Zealand release: March 18
I don't find Paul Greengrass films particularly memorable. This sounds like a put-down -- and, normally, it would be -- but it's not intended as such. Greengrass's style does not permit him to dwell on moments. His films rarely contain That Money Shot that sticks with you days after the movie, or that marketing people want to splash all over the trailers and TV spots. The dialogue is rarely blustery or quotable. All up, Greengrass likes to keep things moving; his films are high concept and action-packed, yet presented in an almost antithetical veneer of understatement. Thankfully, his films aren't as wanky as that last sentence, which also makes them palatable.
Those expecting BOURNE 4 will be disappointed. Aside from the pairing of Damon and Greengrass (and that indomitable Greengrass style), there's nothing BOURNE-ish about the film. Damon is a soldier getting increasingly pissed off at being sent on missions to find weapons of mass destruction that are not there. He slowly gets caught up in the politics, and the different factions with conflicting agendas.
The film is, essentially, what THE KINGDOM was trying to be. It's action and politics all at once, and doesn't have to engage in an awkward gear-shift to switch from one to the other.
GREEN ZONE does take the occasional dip, though. Most notably is a scene between Greg Kinnear and Amy Ryan, which reads exactly like they're both having a competition to recite the most clichéd lines from other films. That thought jumped into my head halfway through the scene, and made the second half almost laughable. I almost wish I had a transcript available. It reminded me of that scene between William Shatner and Dennis Leary in LOADED WEAPON 1. When a film has managed to mock your own film seventeen years early, it might a sign to excise it.
Ryan and Kinnear are both very good in this, even though Kinnear's scenes with Matt Damon kept reminding me of STUCK ON YOU. Although this is probably just evidence that I was really distracted during the screening. All that said, the performances are all terrific, particularly KITE RUNNER actor Khalid Abdalla, who almost steals the show.
The film does feel a bit preachy, and even though it takes a stand that fits with my own personal politics, I do think the message could have been toned down a little. Its bombastic style doesn't quite gel with the film that led up to it, and I expect there'll be some pretty heated arguments surrounding the film's final premise. Even if there is an argument, it's one worth having, and one that doesn't detract from the quality of a really excellent film.
Australian/New Zealand release: April 8
How you respond to this film will depend largely on your expectations. If you're expecting a completely realistic take, a la the opening narration from the trailers, then you're probably be going to get disappointed. If the universe of Spider-man and Iron Man and so on is over there, and we're over here, then the world of KICK-ASS lies somewhere in between. People don't get superpowers, but there are still good guys, bad guys, climactic battles, and extraordinary circumstances.
Once you get on board with the world of KICK-ASS, you find you're immersed in one of the funniest, ballsiest postmodern takes on the comic book superhero genre. The hook is not superheroes-in-an-ultrarealistic-world, but rather everyday-mundaneness-in-a-superheroic-world. It is filled with people who swear, heroes who kill without every discussing the morality of it, and some real brutality. In that sense, it's a few steps away from the superhero world we're used to, but also remains a few steps away from our own world. And if you're cool with that, you'll be cool with the film.
Where to start? The dense, brilliantly-balanced script? The direction that keeps things pacey and interesting without ever getting full of itself? The actors? Nicolas Cage has not been this good since ADAPTATION (with the exception of his turn as Fu-Manchu, of course). This is Classic Cage, the one who worked with David Lynch and the Coens, and knows how to get the best out of great material. Sadly, I didn't hear a word of his dialogue when he was dressed as Big Daddy, not because he was garbled, but because when I figured out what he was doing, I was tears of laughter. I'm going to have to see it again to find out what he said, because... well, you'll see.
It's got an unwaveringly solid cast, from Christopher Mintz-Plasse proving he actually isn't a one-hit wonder, to the great Dexter Fletcher (whose sudden lurch into middle-age will freak out anyone who, like me, recently re-watched BUGSY MALONE). Aaron Johnson, previously John Lennon in the seriously-great NOWHERE BOY, has got range and screen presence to spare, and carries his parts of the film well. The break-out star from this, though, is going to be the extraordinary Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. I doubt there's going to be a better double-act this year than Moretz and Cage; their chemistry is solid, and the instincts Moretz has are frighteningly great (frightening in the sense that few actors this young are this good).
Easily one of the best films of the year, KICK-ASS is the best example of the sort-of postmodernism that the recent influx of superhero movies has born. In the unlikely event you're still on the fence about whether to see this film, see it.
THE RED SHOES (RESTORED)
Australian release: March 21
I had never seen THE RED SHOES before. Mind you, I thought I had. Turns out that watching on DVD (albeit projected onto a big screen) is not watching it. Watching it is seeing it on a massive screen, in a beautiful theatre, in a restored 35mm print.
If you're not familiar with THE RED SHOES, it's a 1948 film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. If you've just started your cinematic education, they're the guys behind BLACK NARCISSUS, THE 49TH PARALLEL and PEEPING TOM (although that last one is Powell and not Pressburger). All the filmmakers you love? These are the guys they love. But I'll come back to them in a moment.
THE RED SHOES is based on a Hans Christian Anderson story, in the same way that KISS ME KATE is based on "The Taming of the Shrew", or Olivier's HENRY V is based on "Henry V", in that the characters are themselves seen to be adapting the source material. In the case of THE RED SHOES, a ballet company is attempting to stage a new production of "The Red Shoes", but that is only a small component of the film's storyline. Victoria Page (ballerina Moira Shearer), is an aspiring ballet dancer; Julian Craster (Marius Goring) is an aspiring composer; both are drawn into the ballet company of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), where politics and personal conflicts dog the day-to-day rehearsals of what is purported to be the world's most famous ballet company.
Powell and Pressburger were visionaries. You feel as if you're watching cinematic language being invented before your very eyes, and that sense of pioneering is exciting. That the characters are so richly drawn, the cinematography so rich (and we can now fully appreciate it with this restoration!), and the choreography astounding, makes for a flawless experience. Their influence on other great filmmakers is obvious. The energetic camera movements are pure Scorsese (who himself spearheaded the restoration); Powell's PEEPING TOM was every bit as effective a real-world horror as was Hitchcock's PSYCHO, released the same year; Gene Kelly had been doing imaginary dance sequence asides in films like ANCHORS AWAY, but there can be little doubt that it was THE RED SHOES's magnificent sequence that inspired the more balletic, surreal diversions that inspired Kelly and thus elevated classics like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS from greatness to perfection.
I remember reading a review of Tarantino's DEATH PROOF (stay with me) where the reviewer posited that no filmmaker had ever laid themselves as open and bare as Quentin had. I think RED SHOES may dispute that assertion; when the film takes off and the jealousy of Lermontov becomes apparent, this is essential character work that is not as telling as it may appear. No, the true revelations come in the opening fifteen/twenty minutes. Lermontov is rude, he is abrasive, and sick of people trying to take advantage of his success; in turn, he appears to -- although it remains unspoken -- seduce and then ignore a young, beautiful ballerina, with their night together presumably a trade-off for her place in his company. It's handled as subtly as is required for a film made in 1948, but there are enough hints in dialogue and body language to suggest this took place. Meanwhile, Lermontov's collaborator brazenly steals his ballet score from one of his students, and Lermontov remains unsurprised by this revelation. They are the artistic commanders, the producer, writer, director, and we are instantly shown what an unfair, horrible, seedy duo they are. It's fairly brave stuff, completely avoiding the usual "misunderstood genius" angle that so many filmmakers yearn for, and so desperately and awkwardly shoe-horn into their work.
From the extraordinary opening sequence to the shockingly powerful and brilliant ending, THE RED SHOES is the most astonishing work you will see in a cinema all year. The restored 35mm print is the only way to see it.
BRONSON (February 10, Region 4)
The film: I was on the bandwagon of "Tom Hardy for Best Actor!", but even I couldn't keep that up when watching the long-deserving Jeff Bridges up on the stage calling everyone "man". Still, once you get past the hype of BRONSON's amazing central performance, you discover an amazing central performance that does, in fact, live up to everything everyone said about it. Tom Hardy absolutely owns this role, and -- much like Bridges in CRAZY HEART -- it's a performance that elevates the film's quality above what it otherwise would have been. BRONSON is an excellent film, and the odd disconnectedness of its final act is actually lessened on DVD. As much as I think all films should be seen on the big screen, I think BRONSON's structure lends itself quite well to the way in which most of us watch films at home. As much as I dug it the first time, I actually preferred it more on second viewing!
The extras: If you're someone who likes ordering the frequently-superior editions of films from the US or the UK, there's some tantalising Australian-only content on this disc. Admittedly, it's only a five minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn, but he reveals more in that five minutes (including other actors he looked at for the lead) than most directors reveal in two hour commentaries. Definitely the best extra on this set, which also includes a commentary by Refn and a couple of brilliant trailers.
Should you buy it: Hell yes.
HAEUNDAE (February 10, Region 4)
The film: The cover makes it looks like it's Korea's answer to THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW. Given THE HOST can be viewed as Korea's answer to Emmerich's GODZILLA, I immediately threw the review copy of HAEUNDAE into the DVD player. The movie is a disaster flick about a massive "mega-tsunami" about to destroy a Korean shore, yet the mega-tsunami itself doesn't show up for more than a sodding hour. In the meantime, we are treated to an impossible large array of characters all being incredibly irritating and having interpersonal conflicts that are not, by any definition of the word, interesting. These include the standard Korean idiot man-child, of which there are about three, all acting like complete morons, which is somehow endearing to improbably cute girls. Most of whom are also annoying. When people couldn't work out why THE HOST was garnering so many great reviews, I found they turned to criticising those who did love it (ie: "You're being kind because it's foreign, if it was American you'd hate it!"). Well, if it wasn't obvious that this argument was complete bullshit beforehand, HAEUNDAE should prove it. An irritating mess of a film, you spend most of your time praying that the mega-tsunami will mega-kill all of these mega-jerks.
The extras: There is, according to the disc, a trailer and a making-of documentary. You'll forgive me if I don't watch them.
Should you buy it: No. Nor should you accept it as a gift. Or a coaster.
- The BBC to produce a film about a douchey magician who moves to a rural Irish community in BALLYCRISSANGEL
- THE TEAM OF HISTORICAL FIGURES will feature Aristotle, Cleopatra, Liberace, Pope Leo XIII, and Jane Austen as a secret organisation fighting the supernatural armies of Johann Sebastian Bach
- One year on, Adrian Brody finally admits he is yet to Google Richard Jenkins