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AICN-Downunder: DATE NIGHT, THE ECLIPSE, THE BOOK OF ELI, and much, much more!

Basically, run.


Earlier today -- which, given the amount that I've managed to cram into the day, seems like weeks ago -- I finally got in to the Australian Centre for the Moving Image here in Melbourne to check out their Dennis Hopper exhibition. The most notable part of the exhibition was just how much I'd underestimated Hopper.

Whilst I'd always been impressed with his acting and always adored him in films, I'd never really stepped back to look at just how much he'd actually done. I loved him in APOCALYPSE NOW, and I loved him in SPEED, and I loved him in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and I loved him in TRUE ROMANCE, but rarely did I step back and see all of those performances as being from the same man.

I knew he was an avid photographer, I knew he was an avid painter, and I knew he directed films, but it wasn't until I saw all of those achievements lined up in a row and reflected against the backdrop of his acting work that I truly appreciated what an absolute artist he was and is. It's an amazing exhibition, and its timing could not have been more poignant.

If you're in Melbourne and haven't had a chance to see it, make time. The exhibition is in its final weeks, and simply must be experienced.


As i may have mentioned before, every Australian kid of my age had to read John Marsden's "Tomorrow, When The War Began" at school. It was a relief to read a book pitched at teenagers that actually treated us with respect, rocketed along, and told a damned interesting story. Now, all eyes are on the film adaptation, and many a-judgment is being placed on the first proper glimpse: the TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN trailer. The film is due out later this year in Australia.

Last week, I reviewed the new Australian film BRAILLE, and this week, the first seven minutes have been put online! Coincidence? Well, yes. But now's your chance to check out those production values I was talking about. Click here.

Aussie sci-fi/horror film THE DARK LURKING is finally hitting cinemas this month, after its run at international film festivals. It's only playing in a limited run, so make sure you catch it on the big screen. It's already opened on the Gold Coast and Brisbane, and opens next week in Melbourne, mid-June in New South Wales, and late June in WA. The film is written and directed by Greg Connors, and produced by Stuart Wall, and as I went to Uni with both of them, feel free to email me for really embarrassing stories about them that invariably involved a significant amount of alcohol. I have about two years' worth. In the meantime, check out the website for more details.

Australian/New Zealand films currently on Twitter. (Drop me a line if I've missed any.) Read about their surprisingly-interesting travels from production through post-production and into release! Click to follow crime epic ANIMAL KINGDOM, science fiction-slash-horror THE DARK LURKING, reality television/terrorism satire ELIMINATED, superhero movie GRIFF THE INVISIBLE, intriguing-looking horror film THE LOVED ONES, star-studded romantic drama SUMMER CODA, giant shark movie THE REEF, giant squid movie $QUID, the Charlotte Gainsbourg-starring THE TREE, and left-field sequel THE WOG BOY 2. And for those still reading, this here is me.


9th Annual Audi Festival of German Films

We cinephiles get pretty spoiled in Australia, and damned right, too! Pretty much every capital city has its own distinct, brilliant film festival, we have non-stop fringe/specialist/short film festivals, specialist film festivals, and, if that wasn't enough, festivals that concentrate on specific countries! No sooner has the French Film Festival finished, than the German Film Festival begins its tour. The festival includes Michael Haneke's THE WHITE RIBBON, Fatih Akin's SOUL KITCHEN, the 9th Century-set POPE JOAN, and some films I've never heard that all have really fascinating premises. The festival begins on the 21st of April in Sydney, the 22nd of April in Melbourne and Perth, the 28th of April in Brisbane, and the 7th of May in Adelaide. Check out the website here for more details.

13th Spanish Film Festival

What did I tell you? Mere days after the German Film Festival wraps up, the Spanish Film Festival kicks in, with a ton of Spanish-language films from Europe, South America, and Africa. They've got Alejandro Amenabar's AGORA (starring Rachel Weisz), the Oscar-nominated short THE LADY AND THE REAPER, Julio Medem's ROOM IN ROME, and THE MILK OF SORROW, which is apparently the first Peruvian film to be nominated for an Oscar! The festival begins on May 5 in Sydney, May 6 in Canberra, May 12 in Melbourne, May 13 in Adelaide, and May 20 in Brisbane. More details can be found on the website here.

57th Sydney Film Festival

I know it's juvenile, but I am a big fan of the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry. It's fun, harmless, and as I live in Melbourne, I'm always on the winning team. There is one area, though, in which we are tied, and that is in our largest respective film festivals. Much I would love to proclaim my beloved MIFF as the be-all and end-all of festivals, the Sydney Film Festival continues to kick buttocks. We're about a month away from the full line-up being announced, but so far they've revealed Polanski's THE GHOST WRITER, Oscar-nominated doco THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA, Aussie horror THE LOVED ONES (which did actually play at MIFF last year!), Korean horror POSSESSED, Woody Harrelson-starrer THE MESSENGER, the apparently-brilliant film CYRUS, THE RUNAWAYS, Banksy documentary EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, plus a whole heap more. The worst-kept secret in Australian film circles at the moment is which film will open the festival. I shan't spoil it until they officially announce it, but if rumours are true, their opening film is the best film I've seen this year. (I've not reviewed it yet, so don't bother snooping through past AICN-Ds.) Check out the other films at the SFF website here.

Supanova: Pop Culture Expo

One thing I'm really looking forward to next week is finally checking out pop culture expo Supanova. The film, TV and comic book-fixated festival is this year bringing out the likes of Mary McDonnell ("Battlestar Galactica"), James Marsters ("Buffy", "Angel"), Gareth David-Lloyd ("Torchwood"), Karl Urban (STAR TREK), and many others, although you'll have to check the website to see which guests are going to be in which cities. The Brisbane festival is taking place this weekend (April 9-11); Melbourne gets it next weekend (April 16-18). The festival will then recuperate before hitting Sydney and Perth this June. Check it out here.

11th Melbourne Underground Film Festival

MUFF, the misbehaving stepchild of Australian film festivals, returns in a blaze of sex and violence with what we all hope will be a typically-unsubtle manner. The festival is currently calling for entries, so all you filmmakers with a penchant for gallons of fake blood and status quo-bucking should go to the MUFF website and check out the terms of entry. Go to it!

Tim Burton: The Exhibition

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image is bringing Tim Burton, the actual, genuine article, out here to open his exhibition. The Burton exhibition promises to be as comprehensive as ACMI's past and present exhibitions, and will open in Melbourne on June 24, running through to October 10. I will, of course, be bringing you more info on it closer to the date, but hey, it's worth scribbling in your diary as early as possible.

4th Annual A Night of Horror International Film Festival

This is the first I've heard of this Sydney-based horror festival, but I'm intrigued. Aussie horror film DAMNED BY DAWN, which I'm still yet to see despite it having one of the most promising horror trailers I've seen in a long time. Info on the festival, opening next week, can be found on its website.


ALICE IN WONDERLAND? Still?!? IRON MAN 2 cannot get here fast enough. (As always, the AICN-D review can be read by clicking on the linked titles.)



New Zealand

2. BOY


Denzel Washington finally remembers this movie, this is as close as we'll get to a "30 Rock"/"The Office" crossover, New Zealand finally gets to see what all the fuss is about now that the hype has distorted the film beyond recognition, the tradition of great postmodern comic book movies continues, genuine Australian Liam Hemsworth seduces Miley Cyrus in THE LAST SONG, fake Austrian Christopher Plummer seduces Helen Mirren in THE LAST STATION, Jean-Pierre Jeunet finds the halfway point between CITY OF LOST CHILDREN and AMELIE, Aaron Johnston battles himself for control of the New Zealand box office, apparently this is not a remake of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, Jackie Chan enters the titles of all the worst movies into a title generator and makes a film out of it, and Philippe Lioret changes the world. I hope.




Australian/New Zealand release: April 8

In Nick Hornby's typically-brilliant "31 Songs", he compares The Beatles to Oasis. Or, more specifically, he compares John Lennon to Noel Gallagher. Lennon, he says, was influenced by everything from the Goons to Chuck Berry, musical hall to Surrealism, and plenty more, whereas Noel Gallagher's influences appear to consist entirely of The Beatles. It's why The Beatles sounded new and exciting and interesting, and Oasis sounded a bit like The Beatles. It's an argument that came to mind after DATE NIGHT, because I'm worried that we're reaching critical mass when it comes to mainstream cinema. Screenwriters, particularly those working at this level, are increasingly showing their hand when it comes to their lack of cultural breadth and depth. Their experiences seem to be exclusively based on other movies they've seen, and it's beginning to show. A lot.

Nobody is going into DATE NIGHT expecting any degree of social realism, but they are going in expecting to see themselves, or an idealised version of themselves, up on the big screen. That is, surely, the whole point of the premise. Steve Carrell and Tina Fey play a white, middle class, suburban couple who, upon realising their marriage is becoming routine and dull, go out for a slightly-more-exciting-than-normal Date Night in New York City. Their night descends into madness involving car chases, corrupt cops and shoot outs, and a smart writer would realise that the comedy is to be mined from two normal people trying desperately to deal with the madness they're just not used to in their suburban lives. Instead, they're written as two sitcom stars who find themselves in the midst of an action movie and instantly behave accordingly; this lazy shorthand makes it impossible to invest anything in them, and a lack of investment results in a lack of laughs.

Within moments, Steve Carrell is knocking gun-wielding bad guys unconscious with oars. This is not the behaviour of an accountant in the midst of an adventure: this is the behaviour of every character who has ever been in a film like this. You can feel yourself deflate in moments like this, when it becomes clear that nobody really cares about the film they're making.

Am I taking it too seriously? Well, I can tell I'm taking it more seriously than the writer, Josh Klausner (who has SHREK THE THIRD, SHREK FOREVER AFTER and something called THE 4TH FLOOR to his name). I know that much. There seems to be an attitude towards comedy, whereby critical analysis is seen as being po-faced and not getting the joke. I went along to DATE NIGHT hoping for something funny, and I was sure as hell ready to laugh. This analysis here is not me hindering my own enjoyment of the film; it is me pondering, after the fact, why the film didn't work. I nearly got pissed when I realised the film was ripping off a major NORTH BY NORTHWEST plot point wholesale, but then realised that nobody who wrote this film could ever have actually watched a film like NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

DATE NIGHT clearly does not consider itself anything more than a poster with Carrell and Fey on it, and hey, it's those two that compelled me to bother seeing the film in the first place. They're both brilliant, and if anyone comes out of this whole debacle with any dignity, it's those two. They do their absolute best with the material they have, and are the main reason I was able to sit comfortably throughout the whole thing. But that's what scares me about the film: it's going to be sold on the goodwill of people who are hoping to see two superb comedians at the top of their game. And with this sub-par material, these audiences are being well and truly fleeced.

Ultimately, though, DATE NIGHT's failure comes down to it committing the worst crime a film can commit: it is simply not funny.


Australian release: April 15 // /New Zealand release: TBA

Take a deep breath and ensure you're sitting comfortably: it's possible this will be the only review of THE ECLIPSE, a low budget Irish film, that compares it to Ralph Bakshi's 1992 opus COOL WORLD.

See, I'd never heard of COOL WORLD when, ten years ago, I was around at a uni friend's place, and he said "Watch this", and started the video. I saw no opening titles. I did not see the video cover. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, what I saw was a fairly sober-looking World War II drama that, with absolutely no warning, turned suddenly into a garish cartoon about five minutes in. It was brilliant in its way; even the similar WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?, which was almost certainly the inspiration, eased us into the transition. COOL WORLD came out of nowhere, and I'm aware that a lot of that has to do with the unique way in which the film was shown to me.

Similarly, I knew absolutely nothing about THE ECLIPSE going in, and because all film reviewers want to replicate their own experiences for their readers, I shall tell you practically nothing about it. Not directly, anyway. I will almost certainly taint your expectations indirectly, but that's unavoidable. What I will say is that what starts as a completely normal drama certainly does not finish that way. Consequently, I find myself in a unique position, a la COOL WORLD: am I reviewing the film, or my own particular experience of watching it?

If you watch THE ECLIPSE cold, you will see something quite extraordinary. I'm not saying it's a good film... nor, for that matter, a bad one. In fact, my experience of watching has so coloured my feelings on the film, I find myself unable to tell if it's a masterpiece or a disaster. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in-between. Either way, ECLIPSE may do something that many films have done beforehand, but it certainly does it in a way I've never seen done before.

Is that annoyingly vague enough for you? I apologise. This is a review designed for people who have already seen the film, which, I acknowledge, is an almost entirely pointless exercise. THE ECLIPSE stars Ciaran Hinds (if you don't know the name, trust me, you've seen him in a dozen things) as a single father volunteering at a local literary festival. He serves as driver/minder to two of the festival's guests, played respectively by Aidan Quinn and HIGH FIDELITY's Iben Hjejle... and that's about all you're getting from me. I will say that Hinds more than carries off the leading role, Quinn is brilliant as a dickish author, and Hjejle remains a terrific actress whose forte is in details that so many other actors ignore.

The ultimate question, though, is whether it's worth your time. When I break it down to that binary style of reviewing, I immediately land on yes. Whether a film is good or bad is, and will always be, subjective; whether a film is worth discussing, and whether it provokes that discussion, is a bit less subjective, and THE ECLIPSE is certainly one that will be discussed by those who see it.


Australian release: April 15 // New Zealand release: May 6

I am not crazy about the term "Hollywood" as an adjective. As in, "Oh, that's so Hollywood". I heard that horrible accusation leveled at a British TV show the other day because it had spent some money and looked top notch. It's a bizarre pejorative to throw about, especially given Hollywood's good-to-bad ratio is not, in fact, significantly different to everybody else's. So, you know where I'm coming from when I refer to THE BOOK OF ELI as, essentially, a Hollywoodised (or even Hollywoodized) version of THE ROAD.

It's unfortunate for ELI that it has come out mere months after we've been treated to such an extraordinary example of the post-apocalyptic genre as the one John Hillcoat gave us. Given how few post-apocalyptic films there are (as opposed to, say, romantic comedies), it's surprising that the genre feels as well-trodden as it does. When ELI starts, it does not feel like there are many surprises to be had. The clothing, the manner in which society has broken down and then re-established itself, the way people deal with each other, it all feels very, very, very familiar. And so, you hope, it will do something new.

It does do something new. In what feels like the curse of The Studio Executive Note, there is a villain. With everyone in this post-apocalyptic wasteland acting like a bad guy in order to survive, such a villain seems moot at first, but Gary Oldman (oh, like you didn't see that coming when you saw his name in the cast) plays the part well. And, as the film progresses, his part in it actually does take on thematic significance. But that's where my problem lies.

The theme of this column seems to be that of extremely subjective reviews, moreso than normal. How you feel about religion is going to really affect your reading of this film. If you are a Christian, you're probably going to be punching the air for joy when you uncover ELI's message. If you're a person of faith who is not Christian, you could go either way: either happy that the film's endorsement of religious faith is so underscored, or pissed that no bones is made about The Bible being the ultimate book of faith. If you're an atheist, you are going to be horrified at the idea that a belief in an all-powerful fictitious being is apparently more important than anything tangible.

Whilst I won't be going into detail about my own specific feelings on religion, I will say that ELI's message is a dubious one. It shocked me with its sense of propaganda at first, but this has dissipated somewhat as I've thought back on it. Its pro-faith message seems significantly less memorable than the unexpected but well-constructed twist that pretty much alters every single moment of the movie up to that point. Meanwhile, the interpretation of Oldman's character will play a huge part in the arguments about THE BOOK OF ELI, should it rate highly enough to warrant them.

Luckily, the film allows you to engage in a little bit of Spot The Cameo. The best one is Tom Waits, looking and sounding exactly like Ron Perlman, who, in his scenes with Oldman, cannot help but conjure up memories of DRACULA. Oh, now that's a double for you. Anyone want to ponder the religious undertones in Coppola's vampire film?

THE BOOK OF ELI will be a divisive film, and although it has some brilliant moments, as a whole the film is really not worth it.


UN PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE (March 17, Region 4)

The film: UN PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE is referred to as one of Renoir's masterpieces, and at first you'll be wondering why. It seems interesting enough tgo begin with: an old French version of a modern romantic comedy ("Your problem is you can't commit to one woman!"), it follows a Parisian family out for a day of lunch and picnicking. Two amorous local men set their sights on the women in the company and decide to woo them whilst the menfolk are occupied. But what starts off like, say, THE HOLIDAY ends up like Altman's SHORT CUTS. Not quite that extreme, but it goes some unexpected places, and succinctly, too. At a running time of forty minutes, UN PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE feels less like a short feature film as much as a long short, but still seems to whip by quickly. Based on an 1881 short story of the same name by Guy Maupassant, the film was abandoned halfway through filming when Renoir, fed up with the production, signed on to make LES BAS FONDS (aka THE LOWER DEPTHS), and production was halted. You wouldn't really know it from watching the film. Despite the missing scenes, it feels like a complete piece, wherein additional scenes might have felt like padding. What starts off being delightfully lightweight ends up being disturbing and powerful.

The extras: You'd expect a few extras on a film that only runs to forty minutes, especially if it's retailing in excess of thirty dollars. And you get it, too. There's an hour and twenty-five minutes worth of camera footage: that's three times the length of the original film with change to spare! This extra is somewhat misleadingly referred to on the back of the cover as a "documentary", and whilst that might be technically true (it does document the making of the film, in a sense), it's probably not what people are expecting when they pop it in the player. Still, it's a fascinating piece; how often do you get to see outtakes from 1936 and actually hear Renoir directing his actors live? LA DIRECTION D'ACTEUR PAR JEAN RENOIR is more likely to appeal; it's a twenty minute documentary -- a real one, this time -- with Renoir discussing and revealing his methods for directing actors. The main feature has an interesting commentary from film lecturers Anna Dzenis and Rick Thompson, who both keep things fairly lively and informative. If that wasn't enough, there's a terrific booklet with photos and an essay by Ian Johnston about the making of the film.

Should you buy it: If you don't look closely, it may well seem like an overpriced, under-length minor work, but it's actually one of the best packages I've seen in Madman's Director's Suite range. Lovers of pre-New Wave French cinema need to get their hands on this.

GENOVA (March 10, Region 4)

The film: Missing Michael Winterbottom's GENOVA on the big screen was one of my big cinematic regrets of 2009. Winterbottom is one of the few filmmakers who challenges himself with nearly every filmic outing, be it the unusually self-aware biopic 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, the THX-like dystopian science fiction CODE 46, the Kaufmanesque adaptation TRISTRAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY, or the brilliant and misunderstood 9 SONGS. It helps to go in to GENOVA thinking of it as a Michael Winterbottom film; the poster suggests a strong narrative throughline, a satisfying but not pandering three act structure. The film has anything but. The film is a slice of life, loathe as I am to use that term, looking at the lives of a family that move to Italy after the death of their mother. It's remarkable, beautiful stuff, and the performances from all concerned -- Colin Firth, Catherine Keener and Hope Davis, yes, but particularly Firth's children as played by Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine -- are extraordinary. It's all so natural, you almost feel intrusive, at times, for watching them. Winterbottom's GENOVA is best seen as a visceral experience, as it is intended, and as such, it is a remarkable work.

The extras: There are some interesting cast and crew interviews, a piece about shooting on location in Italy, plus a trailer. Would have loved a Winterbottom commentary, but his comments in the cast and crew features kept me sated.

Should you buy it: If you're a fan of Winterbottom's free-associating narrative style, then yes. It really sticks with you, and ranks amongst the filmmaker's best.

EDEN IS WEST (March 10, Region 4)

(Disclosure: my partner is the new Marketing Manager at Sharmill Films, the company that distributed EDEN IS WEST.)

The film: Only two weeks after my review of the brilliant new French film WELCOME comes another film about refugees, albeit a very different one. Whilst WELCOME managed to be very political without being even momentarily preachy; EDEN IS WEST avoids it by not even attempting to be political. It doesn't have the minutely-researched feel that WELCOME has, instead following the journey of a single man as he encounters gypsies, thieves, bickering German couples, genial truck drivers, and amorous rich women in his attempt to get to Paris, where he believes his salvation will lie. Legendary filmmaker Costa-Gravas is in his late 70s, but his vitality and energy have clearly not waned at all. It's a beautiful film -- fashioned loosely, I read after the fact, upon Homer's "Odyssey" -- and lead Riccardo Scamarcio holds the film together with a frankly unfair amount of charisma.

The extras: Deleted scenes, a making of featurette and a trailer.

Should you buy it: In a heartbeat. The unintentional theme of my regular DVD section (mostly beholden to which DVDs I am sent to review) is relatively unknown works by great filmmakers, and it's frequently in these films that unexpected pleasures lie.


- Following George Lucas's lead, James Cameron will produce an AVATAR TV series spin-off set in a Na'Vi Intensive Care Unit, entitled I.C.U.

- Concept art for new RIDDICK film depicts Vin Diesel applying for unemployment benefits

- Independent distributors to cunningly release a DVD box set featuring TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, Duncan Jones's MOON, recent Irish drama THE ECLIPSE, and BREAKING DORN, a new documentary in which "Star Trek" actor Michael Dorn is subjected to violent physical abuse

Yours moistly,


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