AICN-Downunder: WELCOME, BRAILLE, and a look at Aussie cinema circa 1896...
Published at: March 26, 2010, 9:33 a.m. CST by merrick
I was in the moment, and the moment said "smack ya".
Did you know the first feature film ever made was THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG? Yep, Australia owns the honour of creating the first full-length feature film way back in 1906. (See me impart this information via video in the most inefficient way possible.)
But what of the first short ever made? Well, that we can't claim. As you probably know, that honour goes to the Lumiére Brothers' 1895 classic WORKERS LEAVING THE LUMIÉRE FACTORY. But we came awfully close. And when I say "we", I actually still mean the Lumiéres.
Lumiére cameraman Marius Sestier was sent to Australia to work with photographer Henry Walter Barnett, and help promote the new technology around the world. Until 2005, the earliest surviving footage Sestier shot was on November 3, 1896, and was the Melbourne Cup (go Newhaven!). It was pipped by HUMOROUS ROLLERSKATER, or PATINEUR GROTESQUE, which Sestier shot only a few days earlier. In the film, a large man with a cigar performs on rollerskates for a crowd in Melbourne. Ten seconds of the film, which has only just been restored and released, can be seen on the Australian Screen website here.
The very first film Sestier shot, on October 27, was called PASSENGERS ALIGHTING FROM A FERRY "BRIGHTON" AT MANLY, and is sadly lost to time. It's unlikely to turn up, but then ROLLERSKATER turned up over a century after it was shot, so who knows?
There you go. A bit of film history trivia for you.
Jon Hewitt, director of ACOLYTES, will next make thriller X, possibly preventing Fox from further reducing the titles in the X-MEN franchise. Apparently something of an erotic thriller, X will shoot in Sydney in April, and star Viva Bianca ("Spartacus") and Hanna Mangan-Lawrence (ACOLYTES, THE SQUARE, LUCKY COUNTRY). According to Encore, the movie will be shot on the new RED camera. From what I've heard of ACOLYTES (which, frustratingly, I'm yet to see), this is one to watch out for.
The fascinating-looking western RED HILL, starring Australian Ryan Kwanten ("True Blood") has been picked up for US distribution by Sony. Stateside cinema releases are not common for Aussie films, so it bodes well for a film that already looks very promising. Again, I direct you to the awesome trailer here.
I know I should really be hyped up about a CAPE FEAR-style film starring John Jarratt, but the trailer doesn't fill me with a lot of confidence. There's something about it that's trying too hard, and whilst that might just be the trailer and not the film, I am cautious. The film is called SAVAGES CROSSING and stars Jarratt (WOLF CREEK), Chris Haywood (BENEATH HILL 60), Jessica Napier (GHOST RIDER), Craig McLachlan (HATING ALISON ASHLEY), Sacha Horler (LOOK BOTH WAYS), Rebecca Smart (BLACKROCK), and Angela Punch-McGregor (NEWSFRONT). Take a look for yourself here.
Finally, my ANIMAL KINGDOM quasi-obsession continues with a link to the brilliant new poster by Jeremy Saunders, live on his website. It's a great piece, and even though I feel praise-filled quoted generally ruin a poster's aesthetic, this is something I'd gladly put up on my wall. Check out Australia's Sundance-winning film here.
The nadir of Tim Burton's career (and no, I have not forgotten PLANET OF THE APES) manages to make him more money than God. And if you thought that was bad, THE BOUNTY HUNTER is at number two in both Australia and New Zealand. But hey, COP OUT made number five in Australia -- bet none of that money came from film critics! (As always, click on links to see the AICN-Downunder -- and therefore definitive -- review.)
Hollywood continues trying to convince me that Gerard Butler is a major star, the story of two brothers named Boy and Rocky wisely avoids a lawsuit by naming itself after the former, fun fact: this was the last film released by Miramax before it folded, Jim Sheridan assembles the ultimate indie cast, Rian Johnson's BRICK follow-up finally hits New Zealand, I won't comment on this until I've paid money to see it, the original title for this was MEN WHO HATE WOMEN (seriously), calling this BOURNE 4 is about as accurate as calling it STUCK ON YOU 2, Dreamworks (reportedly) tries their hand at making good computer animated films, possibly the best cast of the year appears in the most meh film of the year, Emma Thompson screwed over HARRY POTTER for this?!?, "Bart Freundlich" sounds like a relatively filthy German activity, hopeless dystopia reaches the Kiwis, and Jackie Chan's agent reveals he has been involved in a lifelong vengeance vendetta against Jackie Chan.
Philippe Lioret's WELCOME is a difficult film to classify, particularly after only one viewing. It leaves you with a wonderful feeling that repeat viewing will glean further meanings. Lioret layers his film with endless parallels, some overt, some subtle, giving this straightforward story so much more depth than other directors may have given similar material.
It is the story of an Iraqi refugee, a teenager, who has walked from Iraq to France, and now intends to cross the English channel by any means he can. If you think it sounds like the perfect basis for a political polemic, well, it could be, but it isn't. At least not directly. Lioret has a lot to say, but not a word of it is preachy. He focuses on the human drama, and how policies -- regardless of how they serve a perceived greater good -- affect people's lives.
Bilal, the Iraqi teenager played by Firat Ayverdi, befriends swimming coach Simon (Vincent Lindon) in Calais, and-- well, I'll leave it there. The way the story unravels is beautiful (as is much of the understated cinematography), and must be experienced as freshly as possible. But there is not a single beat of the story that rings false, not a single character shift feels forced. Lioret and his co-writers Emmanuel Courcol, Olivier Adam and Serge Frydman display not just a deep understanding of the political situation, not just a deep understanding of the experiences of refugees, but of compelling character and storytelling. It's a film that tries to do an awful lot, and you would forgive it for dropping one of its many balls, but WELCOME requires no such forgiveness.
I have a conflicted relationship with French cinema. Whilst I adore its classics (see my review of a recently-re-released classic Renoir film below), I tend to love and hate its modern films in equal measure, usually in opposition to general critical consensus. (I loved MIC-MACS. I did not respond well to A PROPHET.) This is a case where I must agree with my colleagues who have also sung this film's praises: WELCOME is an amazing work, and possibly one of the best of 2010.
Australian/New Zealand release: TBA
I've watched BRAILLE twice now, which is a rare thing for me to do with any film I am to review. The second viewing was because I felt I didn't get a proper handle on it the first time, and after the re-viewing, I think that was true. There's this underground film movement in Australia that doesn't get discussed much, and BRAILLE works in the same way that Rohan Michael Hoole's THE COURT OF LONELY ROYALS worked: recognising the pitfalls that so many similarly-themed films typically fall into, BRAILLE cuts the crap and goes right for over-reaching ambition. And it's hard not to love it for that.
The "over-reaching ambition" is not to say that its execution is bad -- in fact, it's astonishingly good -- but it shoots higher than so many "properly" funded films that back down into safe, recognisable areas. The mere fact that it manages to pull of practically everything it sets out to achieve is praise-worthy enough.
BRAILLE tells the story of two career criminals who are employed by a blind man to perform a complex heist. It sounds straightforward enough, but writer/director Matthew Chuang puts enough new stuff in there so it feels like what you're watching is completely original. Chuang knows that making a genre film does not mean backing down on the human drama, and this is handled well.
The only place the film is really let down is in the performances. The acting isn't necessarily bad, but the dialogue never feels like it fits in the mouths of the actors. They're at their best when they're performing silently, in stoic looks or violent action scenes. Thankfully, there are a lot of both, so the issues with the dialogue (which is well-written when you divorce it from its delivery) are not overwhelming.
Between this film and his recent third prize win at Tropfest, Matthew Chuang is proving himself someone to watch. BRAILLE is an impressive, entertaining production, and signals the arrival of a new and exciting voice.
PRIME MOVER (March 10, Region 4)
The film: I managed to miss PRIME MOVER several times last year, despite efforts to the contrary, so I was eager to check it out on DVD. The film, written and directed by David Caesar, follows the story of a young man desperate to own his own truck. It starts off brilliantly, with a really eclectic mix of the Aussie outback, gypsy music, fantasy sequences, a "once upon a time"-style narrator, and a slew of Australia's best character actors in support (look out for Ben Mendelsohn, William McInnes, Anthony Hayes, Gyton Grantley and Jacki Weaver). It does lose momentum a little in the middle when the charm gives way to harsh reality, and suddenly the film we're watching doesn't look much like the one we started with. That said, it finishes well, and I can't fault leads Michael Dorman and Emily Barclay. All up, I enjoyed this a whole lot more than I was expecting to.
The extras: Audio commentary with David Caesar, some behind-the-scenes featurettes, trailers, and alternate opening. Not a bad package.
Should you buy it: My rule about not giving films a rank or rating (occasionally broken for other publications that demand it) was inadvertently broken when I introduced the "Should you buy it" section of the DVD Reviews. PRIME MOVER isn't an automatic yes, nor is it an automatic no. It's definitely one worth seeing, though, so on that level I'd lean towards a yes.
ELENA AND HER MEN (March 17, Region 4)
The film: Someone should chart the progression of the political satire in television, film, plays, etc. ELENA AND HER MEN is, in some respects, the 1950s version of IN THE LOOP. In most respects it isn't, but the underlying political machinations and absurdity of how interpersonal relationships are used to affect major decisions is certainly reminiscent of Armando Iannucci's brilliant comedy. It deviates when director Jean Renoir uses French farce as the comedic augmenter, leading to some scenes of true comic absurdity. It's great to see such a playful side to Ingrid Bergman, even when you realise her character's playfulness is really a disguise for something sadder. (So, not really all that different from her other roles, then.) It's a bit of a forgotten classic; certainly not the most important film of Renoir's career, but one that deserves rediscovery.
The extras: Can't say I'm overly impressed by the restoration job. The colour timing is completely off in the dissolves between scenes (of which there are many); it's pretty jarring, and a shame that a bit more care couldn't be taken. There is the standard, compulsory commentary from Dr Adrian Martin, which is, as always, very informative and interesting. Definitely worth listening to.
Should you buy it: Absolutely. Watching Renoir challenge himself with this genre mash-ups is easily something I'm going to want to see a few times.
VENGEANCE (March 10, Region 4)
The film: Imagine an Asian cross between DEATH WISH and MEMENTO, featuring an aging French actor whose plastic surgeon is getting good mileage out of his Mickey Rourke plaster face mold. Oh, and there's a bit of WOLVERINE in there, too. How? Well, Rourke French-a-like Johnny Hallyday plays a chef out for revenge, except thanks to a bullet permanently lodged in his brain, he cannot remember anything, and so must take lots of photos and write notes for himself. VENGEANCE starts off looking like the stock-standard take on the revenge plot, but soon subverts this with some interesting twists and turns, as well as some extraordinary action set pieces that are so much more than the usual lazy shoot-'em-up nonsense.
The extras: Some trailers.
Should you buy it: You should. So much better than 95% of recent revenge films.
- Following the announcement that Jamie Foxx will write LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY, Will Smith abandons both MEN IN BLACK III and THE CITY THAT SAILED so he can adapt MY MOTHER THE CAR for the big screen
- Warner Bros boldly decides to split HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHY HALLOWS PART TWO into two parts